If you’ve ever roamed the bulk section of your local health food store, you may have seen less familiar roots mixed in with the cinnamon sticks and raw almonds.
These common roots, usually dried or baked, include burdock root, dandelion root, marshmallow root, valerian root and licorice root, all broken into little chunks and ready to scoop into a bag. What are they all for?
One common use of these roots is the creation of health teas and infusions, beverages that are said to help boost the immune system or soothe digestive issues or help you sleep. Historically, each root has been used to help with a number of different health problems.
“I use roots in a lot of my products on a regular basis,” Katheryn Langelier, founder and formulator at Herbal Revolution Farm and Apothecary in midcoast Maine, said. “[Roots] are so readily available. I personally focus a lot of what’s already growing here in my backyard.”
Dandelions, for example, grow in abundance throughout New England, often in places people wish they weren’t. This hardy plant with its vibrant yellow blossoms can be found in almost every lawn. They dot the roadside and pop up through cracks in the pavement. And for countless generations the root of this plant has been used in teas brewed to detoxify the body, strengthen the immune system and soothe the stomach.
Langelier uses dandelion root in several of her Herbal Revolution teas, including her Roasted Root With Reishi blend, which she created to be a substitute for coffee. With a rich, earthy taste, the tea is a mix of dandelion root, chicory root, ashwagandha root, reishi mushrooms and a dash of organic cinnamon and cocoa nibs, which adds the tiniest bit of caffeine to the blend.
Founded in 2009 by Langelier, Herbal Revolution Farm and Apothecary creates and sells a variety of products — including teas, elixirs and body care products — made from organic plants and mushrooms. Much of the ingredients for the products are grown at Langelier’s farm in Union, and assembly occurs at a commercial kitchen in Camden. Starting as a small Etsy shop, the business has grown steadily to now sell products wholesale to 180 stores throughout the country, and this month, Langelier will open the first Herbal Revolution retail shop at 147 West St. in Rockport.
“There’s still a lot to do,” Langelier said, anticipating they’ll be able to open in a couple of weeks. “I’m telling people once we’re done painting and get all set up, we’re happy to open the doors. We’re just so excited.”
Langelier has been studying botanical medicine for more than 20 years, starting in high school. After graduating, she pursued farming and off-the-grid living, familiarizing herself with a variety of plants through firsthand experiences.
“I learned a lot of my foundations for herbal medicinals and wild edibles from the farmers I worked for,” she said. “It was a part of the lifestyle. It just came with it. I was growing my own food, so then I was also growing my own medicine.”
“Food as medicine” is a concept Langelier feels passionate about, and many of her products reflect that mentality.
“For the most part, all of our teas have medicinal purposes,” Langelier said. “It just depends on what you’re looking for. We have tea that supports the nervous system, tea that’s great for the immune system, tea that’s great for the lungs and the heart.”
“There’s a lot of things people can be doing for preventative care, and that’s really how I view herbal medicine and food as medicine,” she added. “You can use it for acute issues as well, but I’m not anti-allopathic [mainstream] medicine. It’s saved my life twice now.”
The health benefits provided by different roots and herbs do have some scientific backing, but much of what people hear about herbal medicine is anecdotal, based on testimonials and age-old traditions. On the internet, this can be a problem. There’s plenty of false information on websites about roots and how to prepare them, Langelier said.
“Some of the Googled stuff is good, and some is bogus,” she said.
Before consuming a new tea or infusions made from roots and herbs, Langelier suggests people consult a clinical herbalist or naturopathic doctor and do research using reliable sources, such as the American Herbalist Guild. She also suggests books by Rosemary Gladstar of the Sage Mountain Retreat Center & Native Plant Preserve in Vermont.
Some root-based teas can block certain medications. And some roots can have side effects, especially if consumed in mass quantities. For example, burdock root and dandelion root are diuretics, meaning they flush water from your body — bad news for someone who is dehydrated. They also can lower blood sugar, something that could be a problem for someone who is diabetic.
That being said, few people have negative reactions to the common roots that Langelier uses in her products, the ones that are so commonly found in health food stores.
Marshmallow root, for instance, is a light-colored root that Langelier grows at her Union farm and includes in several of her teas. Almost pure white, the dried root is used in tea to soothe pain in the mouth, throat, digestive system and urinary tract. It has a sweet, pleasant flavor — which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, seeing how it was used to make the first marshmallows, a sweet delicacy conceived by the ancient Egyptians. (Modern marshmallows are a combination of sugar, water and gelatin.)
When it comes to preparing marshmallow root tea or any type of root tea, there are several ways to go about it. Roots can be cooked in boiling water, they can steep in hot water and they can soak in lukewarm or cold water. The method usually depends on the type of root and the desired tea texture and potency. It’s all about education, Langelier said. One root at a time.
“I think people are a little bit more in control of their own health when they’re using natural products,” she said. “I think it’s empowering people.”
Marshmallow root tea
Yield: 3 cups
3 cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons dried marshmallow root
2 sticks of cinnamon or 1 tablespoon of cinnamon bark
Combine the water, marshmallow root and cinnamon in a large (1-quart) Mason jar. It should fill the Mason jar about 75 percent of the way. Place a cover on the jar and shake to mix. Let the ingredients settle and steep for about four hours. Remove marshmallow root and cinnamon by pouring the tea through a fine-mesh strainer. Drink cold.
Disclaimer: It’s advised to consult your doctor before drinking this beverage as it can block medications and may have negative side effects.
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