the stars in your spice rack
Every Thursday the FxNA team (all 16 of us!) gathers on video screen for our all-team weekly meeting. We kick-off the session sharing, one-by-one, what each of us is grateful for.
It’s a time to connect and share a little bit about life, love and laugh together since, in a virtual setting, there are no water cooler or happenstance colleague encounters.
Today I expressed my gratitude for one particular star in my life: my son Gilbert, who turned 17 this past weekend. (Seventeen?!!)
I also shared my gratitude for having the knowledge and acumen to help so many people here in this community—people like you—to gain the knowledge to feel better and to have the opportunity to accompany you on your journey to sustaining or obtaining health.
Truly. What a gift it is to provide support and guidance where I can.
And celebration of my capabilities—big & small—is one of the best gifts I can give myself this time of year.
As this hectic holiday season kicks into high gear, I want to borrow a phrase from my dear friend and author, Leslie Jonath, and invite you to ‘give yourself a gold star’. (And check out her book by the same name. It’s a great holiday present!)
What achievements and capabilities are you most grateful for this year?
Make a list.
Check it twice.
And be sure to give yourself a gold star. (You’ll see, it feels quite nice!)
We’ve been talking a lot about the stars in your spice rack this season, but today’s star takes the stage in both form and function.
what’s in my spice cupboard today?
it’s star anise!
Star anise is best known as a spice commonly used
in Asian cuisine (it’s one of the five spices in the popular Chinese five spice powder), but it’s also been used throughout history for its medicinal properties.
In fact, some say it was such a sought after spice in ancient Greece and Rome that it (along with some of our other favorite spices), was accepted as payment for taxes!
It’s easy to spot star anise in its whole form as this large, star-shaped pod stands out from its counterparts in the spice jars on your grocer’s shelf. While the star-shaped pods themselves are not edible (but can certainly be simmered or steeped for tea or in soups), the pods contain the edible seeds that are used whole or ground into powder.
The sweetly aromatic star anise tastes similar to licorice, which may be why I love it. Its undertones of cinnamon and clove making it a super spice to add to soups, meat dishes or desserts, when you want a touch of spicy sweetness.
When it comes to medicinal uses, it’s interesting to note that star anise is the primary source of shikimic acid. (Stick with me here.) Shikimic acid is a plant-based compound that is the precursor to oseltamivir, which is part of the flu-fighting drug, Tamiflu. While I don’t advocate this prescription, I do like to track when an herb, spice or food makes its way into pharmaceutical solutions and consider what the original source may do to address some of those downstream problems (i.e. simmer some anise to subdue those sniffles).
(Note: The shikimic acid used for Tamiflu is highly processed and bears little resemblance to the herb by the time it’s used in the pharmaceutical, but that doesn’t mean that the natural pods are without benefit.)
The essential oils in star anise (thymol, terpineol and anethole) help soothe a sore throat, cure coughs, act as an expectorant, and ease spasmodic asthma. See the section below for ideas on how to use star anise as a home remedy to help ease these airway ailments.
Much like fennel, our star spice several weeks ago, star anise has high concentrations of the essential oil, anethole, known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. And anethole makes star anise ten times sweeter than sugar!
These super seeds are also excellent sources of vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese zinc, potassium, copper, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and the B-vitamins.
Sign me up for more star anise!
And the assets don’t stop there. Anise is thought to increase healthy levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, making it an ideal addition to support brain activity and alertness. It may even help ease anxiety.
Adding star anise to your morning tea makes for a awesome morning pick-me-up and digestive tonic. (You can get inspired with my star anise-infused elixir below.) Star anise is considered a digestive aid, reduces gas and bloating and eases elimination.
And last but certainly not least, star anise is thought to have aphrodisiac properties and may even increase libido! If you’re interested in leveraging anise as a love potion, try drinking a glass of water infused with the crushed seeds or make a mug of this green tea masala chai before snuggling up with your sweetie.
green tea masala chai
Our elixir of the day takes us on a journey to India, without leaving your kitchen, of course!
The popular pairing of tea, milk and spices known as masala chai is sold all over India by chai wallahs, or tea vendors.
Interestingly, in America, we often incorrectly shorten the name to just chai, which simply means “milk tea”, without the spices.
Masala refers to the combination of spices that gives this drink its distinct taste and makes it medicinal (as you’ve been learning this last month with our spice journey).
Skip the pre-made chai blend at the supermarket and bypass the sugar-laden chai latte at your local coffee shop. This easy-to-make homemade masala chai will tickle your tastebuds and offers an infusion of all of our favorite spices (sans sugar or artificial sweeteners).
- 4 green tea bags, or about ¼ cup loose leaf
- 2 whole star anise pods
- 5 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp dried ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 2 ¼ cup water
- 1 cup coconut, cashew, or almond milk
- liquid stevia to taste
Bring water, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, ginger, and cloves to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes.
Add tea and gently simmer for 3 more minutes.
Strain into 2 mugs and stir in ½ cup of milk in each. Sweeten to taste.
While the spices I’ve shared so far (cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger) likely already have a spot in your spice rack, I’m guessing star anise might be new to you. If it is, seek out this star-shaped beauty and see if incorporating star anise helps you shine.
If star anise is already a star in your kitchen, I’ve love to hear how and where you use it. Let me know over at the FxNA Facebook Page.
And extra spice points if you share a recipe we can all enjoy. I promise to post a few of my favorites there later this week as well.
If you do, I’ll give you a gold star!
P.S. My good friend Summer Bock is hosting the Better Belly Summit this week and my talk Beyond the Microbiome—How gut health fits into a larger paradigm air free today. Register now (it’s free) to catch my talk. While my conversation is particularly geared toward practitioners, the Summit is definitely a GREAT fit for patients and practitioners alike.
adding in star anise
- sweeten soups and stews by adding one or two pieces of whole star anise pods to your pot while your soup is simmering
- cook with Chinese five spice powder as it contains star anise along with cinnamon, fennel, cloves, and Sichuan pepper
- use powdered star anise to add a spicy sweetness to breads, baked goods, desserts, puddings and smoothies
- simmer whole star anise pods or seeds in hot water (alone or with some of our other favorite spices) for a therapeutic tea
- diffuse or vaporize water with star anise to help clear congestion and soothe coughing
- gargle with star anise-infused water to soothe a sore throat
One word of caution regarding star anise, it has a spicy twin called Japanese star anise. Although they look the same, they are not! The Japanese species is inedible and highly toxic. As long as you’re purchasing your star anise from a grocery store or spice shop, you should be safe.