The winter holiday season is fast approaching with all foods we all look forward each year. As an herbalist, I like to create new delectables that are not only delicious but super healthy as well. Recently a neighbor dropped by a half pound of fresh organic cranberries along with a sample of his homemade cranberry sauce and a note of the ingredients: cranberries, raisins, orange peel, orange juice and sugar.
That last ingredient, found in practically every commercial pre-made product, is one that we tend to abuse. Even “organic cane sugar” shouldn’t fool any of us health nuts into thinking that it is anything more than a narrow cut above most of the other types of sugar with 61 different names. To be sure, manufacturers know how to make us like and buy more of their products by adding sugar in one form or another. If I may riff off of Gertrude Stein’s famous poem about roses, “sugar is sugar is sugar” in its inflammatory effect on our body, whether is called dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose or any other substance ending with ‘-ose.’
No one who knows me would ever call me a purist. I can offer any number of excuses why I might occasionally enjoy a sweet here and there, but let’s face it, the holidays seem to invite us to dive right into overindulging in that naughty food ingredient, sugar. Still, there are some sugars that are better for you than others, honey for instance. Sugar, which develops in plants, is the essence of all our food.
So, what’s so bad about sugar?
We’ve all heard how too much of a good thing makes us sick. It’s when sugar is concentrated and extracted and over-consumed that is the problem. Like throwing too much wood into the fire of our stomach, it dampens the flame, creates smoke and can even threaten to burn the house down.
With just a little wisdom, we can bypass the excess use of sugar in our favorite foods like pies, cakes, drinks, etc. Don’t forget, alcohol IS JUST ANOTHER FORM OF SUGAR, which in part is why it can be addictive. In fact, excessive consumption of sugar is the ‘root’ of all addictions if for no other reason that it weakens our will, which, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, comes from the ‘kidney-adrenals.’
SUGARLESS HERBAL CRANBERRY RELISH
So, to cut to the sauce, so to speak, let’s consider one of my all-time favorite condiments, cranberry sauce. There are many recipes for cranberry sauce and most of them are delicious, but I’ve created one for you that not only has no sugar but is a great kidney-adrenal and qi tonic.
When I make herbal concoctions, or cook foods, I hardly ever follow recipes. Other than the main ingredient, 1 lb. of fresh organic cranberries, I’ll leave it to you to decide what or what not to include. Like playing jazz, I’ll give you the tune and you make the music.
- 1 lb fresh organic cranberries
- ¼ to ½ pound of raisins
- ½ cup of chopped walnuts
- 2 to 4 tablespoon or more of orange peel (fresh or dried)
- Orange or pomegranate juice – enough to cover all the ingredients in a pan
- Jujube dates, pitted – approximately 20 to 30
- Dried goji berries ¾ of a cup
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
If the jujube dates are not pitted, precook them in the orange or pomegranate juice until they are soft enough to squeeze the pit out. Mince these along with the walnuts. Add all the above to the hot juice. Soon the cranberries will swell and you might enjoy popping them so the whole thing blends into a crude sauce or relish consistency. Stir well and add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon after it has cooled a bit.
Now if you’re a crazed sugar fiend you may add honey to taste but the jujube dates should provide enough sweetness to make it delicious to most palates. Of course, you could always add more minced jujube dates.
So why is this a nutritive tonic, superior to the cranberry sauce of yore?
The star of the show, cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon, of the Family Ericaceae, related to blueberries), are well known as a preventive and cure for bladder infections, but they are also used for the kidneys, digestion and as an immune tonic. They are rich in antioxidants. Oxidation is a major cause of chronic disease, aging, and inflammation. Cranberries are also antibacterial, vasodilating and diuretic. They can be used to lower cholesterol and to treat loss of appetite, digestive disorders, scurvy and asthma.
Traditional Chinese medicine has adopted this botanical native to the bogs of northeastern North America and calls them man yue mei. In this system, cranberries are classified them as bitter, sour and cooling. With slightly different terms they are medicinally similarly described and used as they are in the West, including for kidney and bladder stones, urinary tract infections, asthma, dry coughs, weak digestion, loss of appetite and mouth sores.
In Thomas Avery Garran’s ground breaking text, Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, he states that cranberry is sour, bitter, and slightly warm. Of the medicinal functions he states, “supplements the kidney and restrains essence” and “strengthens the kidney and liver.” Explaining, “Cranberry is helpful in the treatment of incontinence, excessive urination, and excessive sweating. Cranberry is sour, bitter, and slightly warm. with sourness, it restrains essence.”
In a word, cranberries, rich in quinic acid as well as malic and citric acids, similar in acidity to lemon juice, work like apple cider vinegar. Paradoxically, instead of making the body more acidic, cranberries, lemons and apple cider vinegar promote alkaline by-products which treats inflammations like those of the urinary tract as well as acid reflux and ulcers in the stomach. So considering all of the above, why would you or anyone want to nullify the tremendous healing properties of cranberries by adding sugar – which causes acidity and feeds inflammation?
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES OF OTHER INGREDIENTS IN THE CRANBERRY TONIC RELISH
Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. They support a healthy gastrointestinal system, are anticancer, and help manage type 2 diabetes as do all the other ingredients in our cranberry relish. TCM calls walnuts hu tao ren. In this system they are said to supplements the Kidney yang. They are used medicinally for treating lower back and knee pain, urinary incontinence, urinary stones, coughing, wheezing, constipation, asthma, eczema, and impotence.
Goji berries, (Lycium chinensis), called “red raisins” by the Chinese, are a blood and yin supplement, balancing the yang supplementing properties of walnut. Goji berries are considered as a major blood tonic in Chinese medicine. They affect the Kidney-adrenals (parasympathetic nervous system) and liver.
Jujube date (Zizyphus jujuba, da zao) – is a warm-energied qi that affects the CM Spleen and the stomach. It calms the spirit, treats fatigue, palpitations, restlessness, loss of appetite and insomnia. Despite its sweet flavor, due to an abundance of natural, wholesome glucose, jujube dates are a good substitute for processed or refines sugar and can be beneficial for blood sugar control and diabetics.
Raisins are rich in antioxidants have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Raisins, especially the dark ones, are considered a blood tonic both in the West and in Chinese medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine, raisins are fermented into a medicinal wine called “draksha” and prescribed in measured amounts as a supreme digestive medicine. Wine lovers may or may not realize that dark wine aids digestion.
The species of cinnamon used in Traditional Chinese Medicine is Cinnamomum cassia. Cinnamomum verum, commonly known as Ceylon cinnamon, is the one preferred and commonly sold as a condiment. Cinnamon is added to foods and herbal formulas as a tasty warming yang (circulatory) ingredient. It has many uses for healing mostly conditions associated with internal and external cold or low metabolism. It has anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antioxidant properties. Cinnamon has grown as a popular OTC product used in approximately one teaspoon daily to control blood sugar in diabetics. Finally, cinnamon tastes wonderful.
You don’t have to wait for the holidays to enjoy this recipe, which can be taken as is, or added as a condiment, like relish to other foods.
It should be stored in the refrigerator or frozen. But fair warning, this is delicious, you might find yourself and others devouring it in just a short few days.
Written by Michael Tierra