Chinese Herbal Bone Broth

Bone Broth

Never does a week go by in our household where the scraps of our epicurean labors aren’t heaped in a giant enamelware pot and stewed for hours while we mill about the homestead. We’re fanatical about our bone-collecting, surreptitiously slipping chicken carcasses into napkins under the table, asking waiters to box up our goat bones after indulging in a hearty pot of Birria De Chivo Goat Stew. The result of our rampant scrap-mongering is a rich, profoundly nourishing bone broth, imbued with golden melted life-force, exceedingly nourishing to the illustrious Three Treasures of Chinese Medicine:

Jing, our Essence, the source of life, the basis for all growth, development, and sexuality.

Qi, our energy, giving us the ability to activate and move our bodies, whilst protecting us against external and internal pathogenic factors.

Shen, our inner light, the vitality behind Jing and Qi, the mental and spiritual force that shapes our personality and spirit.

Bone Broth- or ‘stock’, depending our your particular cultural milieu- is a pan-cultural old world panacea, utilitarian kitchen alchemy transforming vegetable scraps and bones into pure nutritional gold. Heaps of vegetables, herbs, and leftover bones are pragmatically piled in a pot, and left to simmer slowly for long periods of time, extracting every morsel of function and flavor. The resulting infusion is a gently potent brew, teeming with trenchant, bio-available nutrition, easy to digest and suitable for all matter of medicine, both preventative AND curative. A complex, rich mosaic of variegated flavors, it is also an opulent addition to stews, soups, sauces, poaching liquid, grains, beans, and porridge, transforming blasé cooking water into a savory swill. It nourishes our tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, and blood, keeping us limber and spry, with an assassin-worthy immune system. As a grounding force in our otherwise hypersonic, twenty-first century lives, it forces us to spend a few hours a week at home, tending to our hearth fire. If I seem a little in love with it, it’s because I am. I get to melt bones in a giant pot, like a surly wizard necromancer.

Many moons ago, before I was religious about my bone broth, I was stricken by a persnickety set of symptoms that left me vacillating between a sprightly 20-something yoga warrior and a knobby, decrepit old crone. One day, I would be handstanding in yoga class like nobody’s business, and the next day, I could barely touch my toes, plagued with spells of tightness, pain, and numbness, accompanied by bouts of sleep seizures that made me feel ancient, neurotic, and utterly powerless. After getting diagnosed with a vague autoimmune disease, delivered with a despondent, helpless send-off from the Western Medical Hegemony, my homegrown recovery was rooted in cutting out all inflammatory foods (gluten, sugar, ungainly processed rubbish), and going the way of old man Hippocrates by using food as my medicine. Through Traditional Chinese Medicine and the wisdom of thee Weston A. Price Foundation, I discovered the ancient magic of bone broth, and have never looked back. Years later, I am symptom free (though on occasion, I go to town on Chocolate Stout and homemade bread), and enjoying all sorts of bendy melee on the regular. And really, despite seeing tons of under-the-weather patients daily, have developed a super-human resistance to colds and flu. I make my cauldron of bone broth weekly, and drink a cup a day, increasing in times of debauchery, disorder, or debilitation. I suggest this to everyone that walks through my door, as I’ve seen countless miracles in managing all matter of disease (you can check out the foxy graphic below from Vanessa Romero at Healthy Living How To for a list of its wiles and wonders).

If broth seems too good to be true, it’s because it is. Our leery, infirmed culture has taught us to be inherently disdainful of anything that seems ‘too good to be true’, a silly idiom I’ve always despised for shading the world in a Saturnine hue, thwarting the everyday magic of simple things, and propagating the ‘snake-oil’ mythos that impedes the advancement of traditional medicines. I much prefer the wisdom of wise old Yeats, who knew that “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Why is bone broth so beautiful? The venerable Dr. Mercola at The Mercola Institute drops some science on this egregious elixir below, adding some credence to my highfalutin claims:

BENEFITS OF BONE BROTH

Helps heal and seal your gut, and promotes healthy digestion: The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid. It attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion.

Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses: A study published over a decade ago found that chicken soup indeed has medicinal qualities, significantly mitigating infection.

Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulphates, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage. (Aside: glucosamine and chondroitin are usually sold over the counter as fancy supplements for arthritis).

Fights inflammation: Amino acids such as glycine, proline, and arginine all have anti-inflammatory effects. Arginine, for example, has been found to be particularly beneficial for the treatment of sepsis (whole-body inflammation).Glycine also has calming effects, which may help you sleep better.

Promotes strong, healthy bones: As mentioned above, bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that play an important role in healthy bone formation.

Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the ample gelatin in the broth.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Large Stainless Steel Stock Pot or Crock Pot

Roughly two pounds of organic chicken, beef, lamb, or fish bones, procured from a local butcher, or culled from recent feastings and stored in the freezer until needed. We’re talkin’ carcasses, knuckles, and hooves, oh my! If you plan on making a habit out of your stock making shenanigans (which you should!), I suggest finding a sympathetic meat peddler to bro-down with in your hood. In Los Angeles, I’m sweet on J&J Grassfed Beef. You can peruse sustainably raised local livestock on LocalHarvest.org, or check out the CrossFit gyms in your area, as many CSA’s are starting to offer gym delivery.   

¼ cup vinegar: Of paramount importance, for extracting the minerals from the bones into your broth.

A Mirepoix, consisting of 1 coarsely chopped onion, 2 carrots, and 2 sticks of celery.

Other coarsely chopped vegetables and assorted kitchen detritus: Perhaps the most admiral facet of broth is its commonsensical use of otherwise discarded cooking debris, with a peasant zeal otherwise reserved for Bruce Springsteen. Yellowing parsley, disfigured carrots, celery tops, blood-red chard stalks, onion skins, the graveyard of your heroic juicing efforts, haunted specters from the crisper… they all get their day in the sun. Your ingredients will be subject to the capricious nature of your weekly eating habits, producing a protean olio that is romantically un-reproducible from one week to the next. We keep a jar in the freezer that we fill with our forsaken vegetable fragments just for this purpose. My mainstays for flavor are 1 bunch of parsley, 2 quartered potatoes, a few hearty sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and a few cloves of garlic.

1 tsp black peppercorns

Fresh, cold water

I love to add a smidgen of Chinese herbs to my brew, to enhance and direct the healing vectors of my broth. 2-3 ounces of each herb should do the trick, always being intuitive with your needs and working with what you have on hand, like the cunning egalitarian Kitchen Witch that you are. These folks are mainstays in my cabinet, and on any given Sunday, I may sprinkle a smattering of the following into my cauldron:

A handful of Dang Shen/Codonopsis Root: To help strengthen the qi, counter mental and physical fatigue, build blood, and nourish body fluids.

Perhaps 5-10 slices of Huang Qi/Astragalus Root: To boost the immune system and strengthen qi, ensconcing one in protective energy that helps prevent illness due to external influences.

Certainly always a knuckle or so of Sheng Jiang/Fresh Ginger Root: To stoke the digestive fires and stimulate the circulatory system.

A pinch of Xi Yang Shen/American Ginseng Root: Boosting gentler Ginseng tendrils than the Chinese or Korean varietals, an admirable addition to combat fatigue and stress, whilst improving athletic and mental performance,

Dong Quai/Chinese Angelica Root: The ultimate femme tonic, invaluable for strengthening the blood, nourishing the reproductive organs, regulating menstruation, and alleviating period pain.

Shan Yao/Chinese Wild Yam: A lovely anti-inflammatory that tonifies qi, nourishes yin, and strengthens the spleen, lungs, and kidneys, particularly puissant after a long-term illness.

A sprinkling of Shan Zhu Yu/Dogwood Fruit: An excellent astringent herb and reproductive tonic that strengthens the liver and kidneys, while securing leakage of vital essence.

6 or so strands of dried Dong Chong Xia Cao/Cordyceps Mushroom: My most favorite herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia, Cordyceps is hailed on the street as the Himalayan Viagra for its revered ability to increase stamina, sex drive, virility, strength, brainpower, athletic prowess & focus. It’s a favorite of Chinese Olympians, so you know it’s gooch.

HOW TO

1. Break your precious bones up into smaller pieces (ideally about 3 inches long), with kitchen scissors or a fun weapon (living with a ninja has infinite perks). This will increase the surface area of bone exposed to the water, giving you a higher nutrient yield.

2. If using beef bones, you’ll want to roast your bones until browned at 400 degrees F for roughly 60-90 minutes to add richness.

3. Place the bones in your stockpot or crockpot, along with your vegetables, scraps, peppercorns, and Chinese herbs. Cover with cold water, adding a few fingers for good measure. Add your splash of vinegar and cover with a lid.

4. Slowly bring your stock to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer gently for 6-48 hours (yes, I know 48 hours is a very daunting commitment in our breakneck world). I love to use a crockpot, because you can just pile all your business in, turn on high until boiling, reduce to low, and then promptly forget about it whilst retiring to your bedchamber for the evening. It’s so egalitarian, I can hardly stand it. If using a stockpot, you can use the following guidelines (and your own pending commitments) to gauge cooking time: 6-48 hours for chicken bones, and 12-72 hours for beef and other meats.

5. Give your bone broth the occasional shout-out during simmering, checking to see that there is always a fair amount of water covering your accoutrements.

6. At some point, you will inevitably notice a thick, insalubrious scum rising to the top of your broth. Many folks will trick you into thinking you MUST skim this off routinely, to clarify the product and make a finer tasting brew. To this I say, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” The whole skimming off the top thing is sadly overrated, as testing has shown that this “scum”, while unsightly, contains nothing harmful. If you wanna be fancy, go right ahead. Otherwise, fret not!

7. When you’re ready to call it quits, remove your bones with a slotted spoon, discard, and strain the rest through a colander into a large bowl. If you’re feeling spry, you can strain again through a sieve or cheesecloth to achieve an extra-fancy, clear broth. Chill your luscious potion of collagen and gelatin in the fridge, until the fat congeals and rises to the top. If you want a liquid broth for cooking purposes, you can skim the fat off and store the remaining liquid in the fridge for roundabout a week’s time. However, if you want your broth to drink like a rich toddy of hot buttered rum, I say leave the fat on (we do), and enjoy your broth like molten velvet bone mojo. Enjoy in radiant heath, golden ones!

Soup Cure: Four Deities Soup

Preventative medicine in a porcelain pot, Si Shen Tang 四神汤, ‘Four Deities Soup’, is an old school tonic remedy for all matter of melee thwarting zest & zing. I have been all sorts of obsessed with this soup since introduced to it by my Chinese Nutrition teacher, who’s hot-blooded zeal for food as medicine is unparalleled. Slurp by slurp, I noticed near immediate relief from digestive doldrums, and felt palpable rays of puissance wash over my seriously taxed bag o’ bones. This gentle soup can be utilized in a myriad of ways, from strengthening the digestive system, increasing appetite after illness or chemotherapy, battling fatigue, boosting the immunity, and calming a jostled nervous system. Because it’s taste is placid & mild, Si Shen Tang is the perfect source of nutrition for finicky kids with digestive distress. Though I find juice fasts to be haughty, ill-informed, & positively superfluous (life is entirely too vivacious to camp out on top of a Vitamix for weeks on end, eschewing commitments, kettlebells, and spontaneity), I CAN get down with a soup detox, which grounds, nourishes, and warms the body. Where juice lacks fiber & protein, shuts down the thyroid, dampens the digestive system, and contributes to wild fluctuations in blood sugar, tonic soups are PERFECT for a midsummer cleanse. They will sustain and simplify, supporting your organ systems without dampening and depleting your inner fire.
Soup cures are this bruja’s medicine of choice, nonpareil. Though you must be proactive, prudent, and vigilant in your preemptive preparation, using soup as medicine is an infinitely rewarding and deliciously empowering alternative to medication and surly interludes at urgent care. A dash of fastidiousness in the kitchen goes a long way in the gallant fight against acute ailments, chronic fatigue, and recovery from illness, by maintaining a buoyant & valorous flow of qi throughout the body.

INGREDIENTS

Though their pedigree may seem glamorously avant garde, Chinese herbs are a hoary banality, and customary staple in most Asian pantries for both healing and grubbing. All of the herbs below can be easily procured in your local Chinatown apothecary, should you have a local Chinatown apothecary. If Los Angeles happens to be your halcyon homestead, hustle on over to Tin Bo or Wing Hop Fung for a crash course in Chinese herbalism, and a fanciful frolic amongst shelves of dried fish maw, beetle skeletons, powdered horns, seahorses, and musty mystical mushrooms. Fresh fare- such as Sake and Chinese Yam- will be readily available at any Asian market, where you can also try your luck at finding rogue Chinese herbs to flesh out your budding collection.

1 Cup Job’s Tears Barley/Yi Yi Ren

Yi Yi Ren

A gluten-free barley (be still my heart!) that adds burly nourishment to even the most tedious soups, stews, and brews, Yi Yi Ren is a gloriously gratifying grain. Excellent for eliminating dampness, heat, and toxicity, it goes to the spleen, stomach, and lungs, aiding in digestive troubles, swelling, fatigue, urinary difficulty, abscesses, and joint pain. I was thrilled to learn recently that Yi Yi Ren is being used intravenously in China to shrink cancer cells, and has been exhibiting hefty anti-tumoral powers. It is, unfortunately, not suitable for pregnant women, though it’s wondrous in soups for conjuring postpartum joie de vivre.

1 Cup Lotus Seed/Lian Zi

Lian Zi Lotus Seed

A dapper bedfellow to Yi Yi Ren, Lian Zi is a meaty lil’ seed that nourishes the heart, spleen, kidneys, and vital essence. Another darling of the pantry, Lotus Seed is mild enough to beef up any feastly fête, excellent for cases of chronic diarrhea, urinary and reproductive disorders, low appetite, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and palpitations.

1 Cup Fox Nut/Qian Shi

Fox Nut Qian Shi

Completing the trifecta of tonics, Qian Shi gently supports the spleen and kidneys, for frequent urination, diarrhea, diabetes, chronic discharge, and sore low back from stress and over-taxation.

A Few Pieces of Fu Shen/Spirit Poria Mushroom, Broken Up

Fu Ling Spirit Poria Mushroom

One of the most poetic medicinal mushrooms of the Chinese canon, Fu Shen is both a mushroom AND a morsel of host wood from the pine tree upon which she feasts. Thus she contains the rootsy, arboreal energetics of the tree, and the otherworldly, decaying detritus of the fungus. Spirit Poria nourishes the heart spirit, and the ancient Taoists believed that consuming this famed fungi 'leads to a long and happy life.’ It is used by those wishing to overcome anxiety, palpitations due to heart deficiency, insomnia, poor memory, worry, fear, edema, and urinary difficulties.

1 Raw Chinese Yam/Shan Yao, Grated and Sliced

Chinese Yam

Another boon for boosting spleen and stomach qi, Shan Yao is excellent for diarrhea, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, and lack of appetite. Also admirable for tonifying lung and kidney qi, it is an delightful herb for diabetics and those with chronic cough and wheezing.

3 Cups Sake or Mirin 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, rice wine invigorates and warms the channels of the body, quickening the flow of qi and enhancing the potency of herbs.

3 Liters Purified Water or Homemade Bone Broth

Should you be hoarding any homemade Botanarchy Bone Broth, this would add luscious flair to your brew. If water seems entirely too ho-hum for your tastes (which it won’t be, I promise), you can find my broth recipe here. I recommend a lighter broth, such as chicken, tempered with purified water.

A Heavy-Handed Sprinkling of Toasted Sesame Oil and Sea Salt, To Taste

Optional: Chicken or Pork

METHOD

First, sanctify your herbal assemblage by bathing it in water, and grate the scrappy skin off your Chinese Yam before slicing. Once your herbs have been happily hallowed, grab yourself a hefty stock pot, and throw in the Job’s Tears, Lotus Seed, Fox Nut, and Fu Shen with wild abandon. Cover with a liter of purified water, boil, and then reduce to a slow simmer with lid on for about 2 hours, until your herbs have sweetly softened. Pop on over about two shakes of a lamb’s tail short of two hours, and add the Sake and Chinese Yam. Once the yam is soft, season to taste with Sesame Oil and Sea Salt. Enjoy in robust health, surreptitiously slurping your bowl of medicine daily, until you have thoroughly coaxed your mojo back to life and hoisted the heebie jeebies right outta dodge.