Cacao Adaptogen Smoothie (Recipe)

colorful cacao pods
Cacao pods by Penn State

When I started my new job in the beginning of September, I also started working on an adaptogen drink that could help with a few goals: increase resilience to stress and anxiety, bolster immunity, and help with memory and cognition. The days are also starting to get much shorter here, and I’d like to get a jump on SAD1, which I have to some extent or another every year.

My new job is a similar role to the last job I had in Colorado, but this one is a bit more complicated and advanced. Last time I was in this role, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, and I got stuck in a rut of deep anxiety, overwhelming stress, and a ragged immune system. By the time I realized I needed to pay special attention to keeping myself sane/healthy, I was already so burnt out and anxious that it was hard to come back from – especially while I was still at that job! I ended up getting bronchitis in March (second year in a row), and managing my anxiety became my second full-time job.

Luckily, I had several months off between jobs (you know, moving) to recover and rest, and I knew what I was getting myself into this time (and this company has much more reasonable expectations and work-life balance). As I started this role, I wanted to take extra care, especially as I was changing sleep schedules and jumping into the new position just as the seasons were starting to change. Plus, the job also requires a good memory and a lot of analyzing and processing information at a pretty quick speed.

So! Cacao adaptogen smoothie was born.

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Lemon Balm

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis

AKA: Bee Balm (not to be confused with Monarda Bee Balm), Melissa

Family: Lamiaceae (mint)

Native regions: Western Asia, Northern Africa, Eastern Mediterranean regions

Botanical description: Perennial (annual in colder regions); serrated, oval or “heart-shaped” leaves; flowering; hairy stems; sub-divides in a square; leaves lemony scented

Constituents: Flavonoids, triterpenes, and volatile oils

Parts used: leaves

Actions: nervine, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, antiviral

Taste/Energetics: sour, cool

Preparations: tea, tincture (M. Wood states fresh leaves preferred), culinary, salves/ointments; dried leaves and tinctures lose potency quickly (Noël Groves, 2016). G. Masé and J. King suggest tincturing 60g recently dried lemon balm leaves in 12 oz 150-proof alcohol for one week (2016).

Cultivation and harvesting: Everywhere, particularly good in USDA zones 4-8; prefers moist and fertile soil; tolerates drought, crowding, and poor soil; adaptable. Can be grown in containers; can reach 2 feet tall. Self-seeds. Water stress increases medicinal constituents (Hobbs and Gardner, 2013). Frost hardy. Stratify seeds and sow in early spring in cool soil (or start from cuttings/division). Essential oil content highest in late bloom. Leaves bruise/blacken easily when harvesting. Harvest carefully in midsummer and again in late summer/early fall; dry in darkness (Hobbs and Gardner, 2013).

General notes: M. Wood states Melissa is particularly good for instances of “sympathetic excess,” especially related to the stomach or heart; specific for nervousness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, heart palpitations, rapid pulse. R. Gladstar states lemon balm is good for “heartache and depression,” SAD (seasonal affective disorder), soothing “stomach distress and nervous exhaustion,” and is effective in treating herpes and shingles. C. Hobbs and L. Gardner highlight the antiviral activity as well, stating drinking lemon balm tea throughout the day may help with herpes (cold sore) outbreaks (2013). Gently simmering the whole herb for 40-60 minutes can release “phenolic fraction,” which can help relieve the “pain and duration” of a oral herpes (cold sore) outbreak (C. Hobbs and L. Gardner, 2013). Lemon balm is also helpful for colic. In addition to previously mentioned indications, M. Noël Groves (2016) also states that lemon balm can be helpful for hyperactivity in children, as well as help with memory and hyperthyroid diseases.

Safety concerns/contraindications: None known; safe for long-term use. M. Noël Groves (2016) states it may rarely aggravate hypothyroid disease.

Personal Notes

2/26/17 – I’ve been enjoying a cup of lemon balm tea nightly(ish) for a month or so now and it has really helped lift my spirits during winter, as well as help calm some of the anticipatory nervous/anxiousness I feel towards work, helping me get to sleep at a reasonable time. I originally came across lemon balm in the Republic of Tea’s Be Happy blend several years ago, but prefer now to buy lemon balm in bulk now and just steep it by itself or mixed with another immune supporting tea blend. It also mixes well with oat straw! I have some ideas for a lemon balm + lavender tea I’d like to try next…

7/6/17 – In mid-March, I got into the routine of bringing a thermos of lemon balm/oatstraw tea with a pinch of valerian root to (very stressful) work, which worked calming magic. Since then, I’ve continued to enjoy lemon balm tea fairly regularly, and like to keep the dried herb in a jar handy in the kitchen. Since it has gotten so hot, I’ve switched to making iced tea (sometimes mixing it with hibiscus or rooibos). It does seem to be a tea that is (for me) best enjoyed regularly to really feel the general uplifted feeling – when I only have a cup now-and-again, it doesn’t seem to have the same longer term effect.

8/21/17 – I found some fresh lemon balm at the co-op – holy moly is it delicious! Up until this point, I had been brewing tea from dried lemon balm. Fresh is an entirely different taste! I also found some at my farmer’s market (every few weeks a local herbalist has a booth). Even just picking the leaves off the stem is a heavenly experience – lemony and fresh. I would love to grow some so that I can have a constant supply of fresh lemon balm, but I don’t think I have enough light in my apartment (and no yard/balcony) to grow some. Working on a few other ideas. Anyway, fresh lemon balm is where it is at.

 

References:

Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Hobbs, C. and L. Gardner. (2013). Grow it Heal It: Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies From Your Garden or Windowsill. New York: Rodale.

Masé, G. and J. King. (2016) DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavors; A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.

Mountain Rose Herbs. (unk). Lemon Balm. Retrieved from https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/lemon-balm/profile

Noël Groves, M. (2016) Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

World Health Organization. (2010). WHO Monographs on Medicinal Plants Commonly Used in the Newly Independent States (NIS). Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/documents/s17534en/s17534en.pdf#page=249

Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

 

Most recent update: 8/31/17

2017: The Year of More

For 2017, I want to work towards doing more – more of what I enjoy, more dedication to my paths, more sustained interest in my hobbies.

Usually, I have two ways of operating: quick, deep diving obsession with new things and complete lack of interest in most things. On one had, I have many interests and love to jump in head first when I discover something. However, I quickly find myself burning out on it and moving on (usually coming back around at a later day). This can look a lot like taking three years to make a scarf, or moving around with boxes of art supplies that I haven’t used even remotely recently.

On the other hand, I tend to spend a huge amount of my time listlessly wasting time in between things I “have” to do (usually work…), not pursuing anything I particularly care about. This looks a lot like rewatching the same TV show enough times that I can pick out when memes with quotes and images from the show don’t correspond (looking at you, Downton Abbey) or scrolling through Facebook for hours.

Yet, every year, when I look back at the previous year, I wish I had spent more time focused on the things I set out to learn or do. I never wish I had spent less time hiking or reading or learning something new. But, I rarely look back fondly on the (literally) hundreds of hours I spent watching TV and reading social media (and all the other useless things I do to fill my time).

So, this year, I’m working on doing more of the things I am passionate about (and correspondingly, less of the things that just to fill/kill time). So far, I’m:

  • Studying herbs in an organized way. I’ve studied them off-hand for years, but I want to begin to organize my knowledge better – take notes, study one herb at a time, begin creating my materia medica, and complete the courses/books I’ve started. This is the year!
  • Meditating and studying mindfulness. Again, something that I have done for years but never in a systematic or disciplined way (or a mindful way, I guess you could say). This looks like: meditating every day in 2017, as well as committing to attending monthly weekend meditation retreats when (financially) possible. I’m trying to push myself to go to weekly nightly meetings as well, but that is a bit more flexible. I’m also reading books related to meditation and mindfulness.
  • Learning Swedish. Why Swedish? I’m not really sure. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s free on Duolingo. Andrew and I are learning together, which is also great. I have been walking around the house quietly muttering Swedish words to myself, so something must be working!

Part of my drive for wanting to be more purposeful in how I am spending my time is that I am so glad to finally have free time after graduation – its almost as though I don’t want to waste it! But, I also realized quickly after starting my new job that the stress of the job was eating me up and I was just coming home and binging on TV until I passed out and started it all over again the next day.

That’s not how I want to spend my days.

I don’t have too many options at the moment, work-wise, and I get paid pretty well for what I do – but the stress and my reaction to it don’t have to be my entire life. I want a life outside of work, too. I want to have more of a life than work and numbing my brain on TV. And, I’m tired of looking back at the day/week/month/year and realizing I wasted so much time doing absolutely nothing. I’ve always wanted to study herbs, learn more about meditation, and learn a new language – so I decided to just do it.

They’re not resolutions – more like dedications – and so I am keeping the list short for now. I’m sure 2017 will bring more more – I see hiking and photography down the road, too. For now, these are my dedications.

Want to follow along? (or join in!)

  • Meditation: I’m keeping track of my meditation sessions on the Insight Timer app – I’m hellokatelandia there.
  • Language learning: I’m using Duolingo for Swedish – I’m hellokatelandia there too. They have 21 languages for English speakers! Pick one!
  • Herbal studies: Look here for my materia medica – I’m planning on keeping monographs here.