Herbal Thanksgiving

 Photo by  eleni koureas  on  Unsplash
Photo by eleni koureas on Unsplash

As Thanksgiving approaches, the search for the perfect recipe gathers momentum. We all have our favorites that we rely on year in and year out to make this gastronomic holiday unforgettable. Since these dishes are loaded with fats and sugars, many eaters experience digestive woes that often last a day or two after the festivities.

My family loves traditional calorie-laden foods dripping with gooey yumminess, but as a healer I take pride in making a meal that is as healthful as it is delicious. I’m always looking for ways to re-create traditional recipes with a healthy twist. I know I have succeeded when friends and family ask for seconds.

As an herbalist, I often use food as medicine, and it’s easy to find digestive-supportive ingredients in my kitchen cabinet, or on my spice rack: 

Carminative herbs stimulate digestion, easing gas and bloating and encouraging peristalsis, the action of the small intestine. Carminatives often make a soothing after-dinner tea, or they can be added to dishes for both flavor and digestive support. My go-to carminative is fennel which offers quick relief for gas and bloating, and is very safe for kids. Other favorites include:

·         Anise

·         Caraway

·         Cardamom

·         Ginger

·         Dill

·         Chamomile

·         Peppermint

Bitter herbs have been used for ages to support healthy digestive function. We are equipped with bitter receptors on the tongue, stomach, gallbladder and pancreas. When activated by bitter foods they promote production of digestive juices such as stomach acid, bile and enzymes which breakdown food and assist in the absorption of nutrients. Bitter foods also help balance blood sugar, keep sugar cravings at bay and improve metabolism.

Dark green or red leafy veggies such as kale, dandelion, arugula, radicchio and endive top my list of culinary bitter treats. Orange peel, grapefruit, dandelion or burdock root and even hops can also do the trick. A small glass of well-made ale and a radicchio salad might be just the thing when eating a heavy meal.   

I begin my Thanksgiving recipe searches by looking for appetizers that will help prepare their digestive systems for the onslaught of overindulgence. This is where herbal bitters take the spotlight. 

Garden to Table: Spring Bitters Salad with Sweet Vinegar Dressing by Lindsay Kluge

To make this dish more seasonal and colorful, try substituting red radicchio for the dandelion.

·         1 cup fresh dandelion leaves (available at your local grocery store, or right from your backyard), coarsely chopped

·         1/2 head red romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped

·         10 sprigs fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

·         1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

·         Pistachios

Directions: Add all greens + parsley to a large bowl and top with thinly sliced fennel pieces and shelled pistachios to taste. Serves 4.

 Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing:

·         1/4 cup Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar

·         1/4 cup olive oil

·         1 tbsp raw honey (or more to taste)

·         1/2 tsp oregano

·         1/2 tsp garlic powder

Directions: Mix all ingredients in a small jar and shake well (as often as needed) to mix in the honey. Serve lightly atop your Bitters Salad for a hint of added sweetness and to stimulate your digestive fire! Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Once I have their bellies prepped for digestion, I think about ways to include as many vegetables as possible in the main and side dishes. Not only does this make the meal nutritious for everyone, but also adds enough healthy fiber to their meal to keeps things moving down below.

Mashed Parsnips and Potatoes

·         Parsnips (peeled and cored)

·         Potatoes (skin on for more fiber)

·         Butter

·         Cream

·         Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Directions: Boil potatoes and parsnips until soft, drain and mash/blend until creamy. Add butter, cream, salt and pepper to taste.

Of course, we can’t forget about dessert! Even if my family finds a way to avoid my other herbal digestive aids, I can offer a rich and delicious dessert (with a little herbal magic mixed in), and they always come back for more. 

Adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Chocolate Goodness

·         16 oz. bittersweet dark chocolate

·         8 oz. Coconut Oil

·         1 cup finely chopped walnuts

·         ¼ cup dried and finely powdered digestive herbs (dandelion, peppermint, chamomile, etc.) You can vary the herbs in this formula. Try your own herbal combinations. Just be sure that herbs are finely powdered and remember the flavor of the herbs will affect the flavor of your herbal candy (though the chocolate is quite good at disguising the flavors)

·         1 tsp. pure Vanilla Extract

·         Coarsely ground Pink Himalayan Salt

·         Optional: 2-3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (not dried)

* If using Turmeric in your herbal candy, add a small amount of coarsely ground black pepper (it’s said to activate or synergize the turmeric and make it more bio-available); approximately ½ teaspoon will do.  


1.      Melt Chocolate & Coconut oil together over low heat.  

2.      Stir in Vanilla and add herbs.  Stir well, making sure there aren’t any lumps.

3.      Stir in finely chopped nuts. * Can add a little shredded coconut, too, if you like

4.      Pour into a shallow baking dish.  

5.      Sprinkle the top lightly with course ground pink Himalayan salt – or a salt of your choice ~ there’s so many to choose from today! You can also sprinkle with coarsely ground rosemary… or rose petals or other powdered herbs for color and flavor.

6.      Set in a cool (or cold) place to harden. While still soft, roll into balls, or better yet, score into small pieces; this will make it easier to cut or break when the chocolate has hardened.

7.      Important!  Store in a cool place, away from heat. The coconut oil will cause this chocolate to ‘melt in your hands,’ and not in your mouth if it gets warm, so be sure to store in a cool place.

When all else fails, I always come prepared with a bottle of digestive bitters! 

When approaching this holiday with a loving heart and mindfulness, you can be assured that everyone will be able to enjoy this sacred day with nothing but thanks to give!

Looking for the perfect Black Friday gift for the herbalist in your life? Rosemary Gladstar’s homestudy course, The Science and Art of Herbalism, offers an intimate learning environment for anyone ready to make their own medicine. On sale now!

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