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As we speak, summer temps are finally chilling out to make way for fall. I’m a mixture of both excited for cooler outdoor adventures, camping, fishing, fall herb harvesting, autumn colors….and a little sad that the hot era of barbecues and beach-going are over.
Regardless, you just can’t complain about a season where you can finally prop open your windows at night, and let some of that fresh, cool air in.
The only drawback: allergies!
That’s right – while the cool air comes in, so does all that late-summer blow-out pollen. It’s like the local herbs are having a last-chance, going-out-of-business sale, and the bulk of it ends up in your sinuses.
Beets, Peaches, and Goldenrod: Unlikely Allies
Fortunately, some of the foods and herbs that come into season right around this time are perfect for an anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory tonic: most specifically beets and peaches!
I know, they’re a very unlikely sounding duo; but earlier this summer, I made a lovely beet-and-peach combo that came especially alive in a drinking vinegar/shrub blend. Really, I could not get over how amazing it was.
These are two beauties of produce that most wouldn’t think of as medicinal (or as going great together at all), but which were once primarily used more as medicine than as food (beets); or, which have unsuspected strong roots in traditional folk medicine (peaches).
Last comes goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), that yellow banner of autumn most people associate with the worst allergies of the year.
I know what you’re thinking: why put this pollen right into an allergy shrub tonic? Sounds like a good way to make things worse. But any knowledgeable herbalist will happily rejoice in telling you: “wrong!”
Goldenrod actually produces hardly any allergens to humans at all, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center and other sources, if you poke around online (or just ask an herbalist).
And while it does bloom brightly August through October when pollen seems to reach its peak (at least in the Midwest and Iowa), this can be blamed instead on its less vibrantly visible green-flowered neighbor, ragweed (Ambrosua spp.).
Unlocking Their Healing Flavors
If you study the flavors of these food and herbs, you can determine their uses and herbal energetics: beets are bitter, cool, and damp, making them excellent alteratives, cleansers, blood sugar balancers, and digestive tonics in Western herbalism.
Peaches are sweet, cool, and moist, dubbing them demulcents and thus excellent expectorant/respiratory healers; while goldenrod is both sweet and bitter, as well as dry, bringing it immune-boosting qualities combined with anti-inflammatory effects.
As we’ll explore later looking closely at the health benefits of these ingredients, these flavor profiles ring true even with some of today’s modern studies on these foods and herbs. In fact, determining the flavors of the herbs and foods you use can help you easily trace their herbal properties, and how they can be used in healing (as an herbalist would).
Want an excellent tool to help you unlock and pinpoint the healing properties of any food or herb (besides beets, peaches, or goldenrod) simply by tasting it?
LearningHerbs.com has put together an excellent herbal compass/flavor wheel, along with a free webinar (The Bitter Truth About Herbs), that help you navigate the world of taste with food and herbs and thus demystify (and simplify!) their healing properties. I highly recommend these tools!
Plus, both of these tools are only a part of their expanded Taste of Herbs class, which will be enrolling new future food-and-herb passionate future herbalists between September 29th and October 1st.
Make sure to check it out before their list fills up and enrollment closes on the 1st! I can tell you firsthand, that having tools to unlock the flavors of food and herbs can deeply enrich both your self-care and your desire to practice as an herbalist.
Foods and Herbs to Support Allergies
So what does this rag-tag trio of herbs and veggies accomplish for allergies, exactly?
While an herbal sinus rinse is my go-to when symptoms get really bad, herbalists do also need to think holistically and nutritionally when working with herbs.
You can feel the pollen dancing it up in your nostrils, but its irritating effects may also be sourced from complications elsewhere in your body. What could be the underlying issue? Inflammation, immunity – or maybe a few recent diet (or alcohol) choices that were tough on your liver?
On top of using cleansing, anti-inflammatory herbs right at the site of irritation (your nose), certain foods and herbs bring a boost to other bodily systems getting overloaded by allergies.
It’s not just your upper respiratory tract that needs some love. Your liver and immune system are also a part of allergy irritation, responding to seasonal pollen by producing more pro-inflammatory proteins (such as cytokines) which trigger yet more inflammation and feed into the vicious allergy cycle.
And here’s the catch: your liver and your immune system will absolutely love beets and peaches, especially how they taste together. (I’m looking at all you beet-haters out there, too; you’d be surprised!)
Nutritional and Healing Properties
When I combined beets and peaches for the first time, this divine duo didn’t just catch my attention due to the wonderful ways their flavors combined. It was also their ability to work together as two nutritious, healing foods in an allergy tonic for fall – a time when they’re both in season – that seemed more than perfect to me.
Then, finally, adding bunches of sinus-soothing goldenrod as a final touch tied it all together, both flavor-wise and color-wise with accents of pink and yellow.
In the fruity and sour menstruum of an apple cider vinegar-shrub medium, the flavors meld and truly come alive, accompanied by the even further allergy-soothing properties of ACV and the probiotics that also support allergy issues.
It all comes together for the perfect, beautiful, refreshing, allergy-supporting autumn mocktail!
Beet Nutrition and Healing Properties (Beta vulgaris)
- Source of vitamin C and iron, nutrients that boost immunity, which mediates allergy reactions; also contains folate, potassium, and manganese for nourishment.
- The pink pigments in beets, called betalains, are potent anti-inflammatory compounds; studies show that they interfere with the pro-inflammatory signalling of cytokines produced by the liver, which can be a part of triggering allergy attacks.
- In traditional folk medicine, beets were used as alterative blood-cleaners, or detoxifiers. This no doubt mirrors modern research’s findings: a perceived “cleansing” of the body being its recovery against harmful inflammation.
Peach Nutrition and Healing Properties (Prunus persica)
- Source of vitamin C, which helps fortify the immune system and modulate allergy reactions.
- Studies over the last decade acknowledge a very notable anti-allergenic effect from the peach fruit – including its ability to prevent mast cells from breaking in the body, which release histamines and create the allergic reaction.
- In traditional herbalism, peaches (typically the bark, leaves, or seeds) were used for asthma, respiratory issues, and inflammation of the airways. This includes difficulties from allergies, and no doubt is a reflection of the confirmed findings of modern studies.
Goldenrod Healing Properties (Solidago canadensis)
Folk herbalists have used goldenrod as a remedy for many things, but most surprisingly of all as an allergy soother, quite unusual when goldenrod is so typically reviled for causing allergies (a popular myth).
Au contraire – even modern studies today investigate its abilities to soothe inflammation, as noted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, including those from allergies. It would also appear that the yellow flower has antioxidant capabilities to heal tissue damaged by inflammation and oxidation, according to another study.
Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar and Probiotics
Last (but certainly not least), all these ingredients fermented together in a drinking vinegar or shrub form make it the ultimate allergy tonic.
Why is that?
Well, the acetic acid bacteria that colonizes fermented vinegars (like ACV) are shown in clinical studies to prevent and treat allergic reactions. If you ferment your shrub for more probiotic activity, the more powerful your tonic will get – and nowadays, you just can’t argue with how good probiotics are for you!
There you have it: a tasty, healthy beverage that has all your allergy bases covered. You won’t even notice that you’re sipping on medicine during these crisp and cool fall days.
Beet, Peach, and Goldenrod Allergy Tonic Shrub (The “Beaches” Shrub)
Beet-haters: watch out! With this delicious herbal drink, you may just find that you have switched sides in the long-fought love-it-or-hate-it beet battle.
But hey – if you can’t beet ’em, join ’em; and this healing brew may be just the thing to convince you.
I’ve taken my main shrub-making inspiration here from cook Mary Karlin’s recipe at MasteringFermentation.com. My reasoning: her craftsmanship involves a brief stage of fermentation, which adds those vital anti-allergy probiotics (on top the sinus-busting foods and herbs) in this recipe.
For my main article on shrubs, check out this post on how to master shrub-making, and how to add herbs to them to make them health-themed tasty tonics and mocktails of your own.
Note: for the most stubborn among you beet-haters out there, substitute one cup of the beets for a cup of strawberries. This will help mask the taste a bit more, while still adding color and compatible flavor to both the veggies and fruits (plus, strawberries have plenty of vitamin C).
As a last note, I’m proud to be using a locally-sourced and very special kind of peach for this recipe (as shown in the photographs): the Iowa Indian White Freestone peach, a native strain to Iowa. (That’s right: take that Georgia, peaches grow up here too!)
- 1 quart mason jar with lid and ring
- Cheesecloth or thin, clean rag of breathable material (with fine holes)
- Wooden spoon or muddler
- Raw vinegar (apple cider, coconut, your choice – I prefer apple cider. Must be raw for fermentation)
- 2 cups red beets, chopped or shredded
- 1 cup peaches, chopped or diced
- 1 cup of fresh goldenrod flowers
- Parchment or wax paper
- (Up to) 1 cup sweetener of your choice – sugar, stevia, honey, agave, you name it
-Chop and place beets and peaches in jar, packed full together with goldenrod flowers. Muddle with a wooden spoon or pestle to release juices, oils, nutrients, and other properties.
-Cover with raw vinegar of choice, until jar brims almost full – but with 1 inch airspace remaining under rim. Make sure all ingredients are submerged under vinegar to discourage mold (and feel free to muddle them up a bit more, too). Drape cheesecloth or other breathable cloth over mouth of jar, then affix lid ring (just the ring!) onto jar to keep cloth in place (for a visual guide or idea of what this may look like, refer to my main shrub-making post).
-Leave jar out at room temperature overnight (12 hours more or less). Wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria will be captured; molds, bugs, and other pests are discouraged. (Side note: leave jar out for another day or two if you’re feeling brave, and want more wild probiotic bacteria in your shrub!)
-After fermentation is up, remove cloth from jar and seal it shut with both lid and lid ring. Place a piece of wax or parchment paper over mouth of jar before screwing lid back on – this will protect the lid’s metal from being oxidized and rusted by the vinegar.
-For next 3 days, you’ll be shaking the shrub as often as you think of it (like a tincture) as it macerates at room temperature, preferably a dark place. During that time, juices and compounds will be extracted, while carbonation and probiotic action takes place!
-After 3 days are over, strain everything out of your shrub into a stainless-steel bowl or the like. Remove twigs and leaves of goldrenrod and compost; keep peaches and beets, putting them back into the vinegar alone.
-Replace wax or parchment paper, seal jar closed all over again, and place in the fridge this time – your shrub will get cool and collected for 4 more days, as flavors mingle. Shake as much as you can all the while. This last process, in the end, totals 7 days (a whole week) for shrub development.
-Your whole week of carbonating, fermenting, and maturation is over – after 4 days in the fridge, go ahead and strain everything out of your shrub, leaving just the syrupy, fruity herbal vinegar in the jar. (Give it a taste – don’t beets and peaches pair amazing together?)
-Here it’s time to add special flavors and extras to taste – put in your sweetener (honey, sugar, etc.) and juice (lemon, lime, grapefruit, your call). Once you’re done, replace the parchment/wax paper, put the lid back, on and return to the fridge. You’ll let it sit for yet another full week to let it carbonate, thicken, and grow to maturity. Shake your jar sporadically to help unlock more flavor.
-After that second week, your shrub should be ready to use and enjoy. Take a couple tablespoons a day as a raw vinegar, probiotic supplement – or add it to tonic water, club soda, or fizzy kombucha for a fruity, sour, refreshing beverage or mocktail. Sweeten to taste if need be.
How did you like the shrub when it was all done? Feel free to share your adventure in the comments below.