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If you read this blog, you likely know that my favorite way of taking herbs is to eat them, and za’atar seasoning (or zaatar or zatar) is no exception. I first encountered za’atar several years ago at dinner at my friends Joe and Nan’s home. Joe is of Lebanese descent; as part of the meal, he had taken pita, drizzled it with good quality olive oil, sprinkled it liberally with za’atar, and then toasted it in the oven. It was divine.
That was before I even started studying herbalism—I didn’t even know what sumac was, nor that it had medicinal properties. Now I know, and if it’s possible, I enjoy this spice blend even more now with the understanding. Similar to a gomasio, this spice blend includes sea salt and sesame seeds but hails from the Middle East. We eat it sprinkled on gluten-free toast, on popcorn, and if you eat meat, it’s wonderful to roll a chicken breast in it before cooking. If you try it out (or if you already use it), I’d love to hear how you use this tasty seasoning!
- 4 parts dried thyme leaves (if the pieces are large, you might want to grind it a little for optimal mixing)
- 4 parts sumac powder
- 4 parts toasted sesame seeds
- 1 part sea salt
Mix all ingredients together. Store in a glass jar.
What are some of your favorite medicinal-and-tasty herbal seasoning blends?
I just recently completed my first year apprenticeship with Sacred Plant Traditions, and we were fortunate enough to be exposed to a variety of herbal/healing traditions. Of these, Ayurveda in particular resonated with me.
Now I’m not going to go into a whole huge discussion here of Ayurveda—I feel like I’ve only just gotten my toes wet—so I suggest finding a teacher such as Mary Michaud and taking a class, or Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra is a very easy-to-read book that explains simply this very complex subject. There are also some great resources online for learning about the forces that make up our constitutions—check out ayurveda.com or chopra.com.
These forces are called doshas, and there are three of them: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Everyone holds in his or her constitution all three of these doshas, but different doshas may be dominant in certain people, and your dominant dosha may change depending on whether you are in a state of balance or imbalance.
Your original state, your state of perfect balance, is called your prakruti. Your current or changing state (the result of outside forces, weather, experience, emotion, etc.) is called vikruti. Often in our lives, our balance will be thrown when one or more of our doshas are aggravated. For instance, my prakruti is Pitta-dominant, and one of its many traits is a hot constitution. Long hours in the sunshine on hot and humid summer days tend to aggravate my Pitta dosha, my already warm nature.
According to Ayurveda, when this happens, you can use diet, certain kinds of exercise, meditation, etc., to restore balance to the aggravated dosha. Again, this is much more complex than I’m making it for illustration purposes, but I have also found it to be very common-sense and intuitive.
One of the many ways of helping restore balance is through use of churnas, spice blends specifically chosen to balance the different doshas. There are a number of recipes for churnas available, but below are the ones Mary Michaud shared with us from the AyurBalance Web site. I love using them as you would a curry powder, sprinkling it over salad, mixing it with lentils and rice, pretty much anything. I’ve broken it down into a table for you, showing how many parts of an ingredient to use for each respective dosha’s churna. All the herbs and spices are powdered.
Actually, “salt free” isn’t entirely true. More accurate would be to say that this seasoning blend only contains the naturally-occurring salts found in the herbs—no salt is added.
A gomasio is a traditional Japanese seasoning blend made of unhulled sesame seeds and salt. My challenge was to come up with an herbal gomasio that was “salt free” and highly nutritive. Many of us eat far too much salt in our diets, but we still crave the flavor, and especially now in the grand season of a fresh food bounty—farmer’s booths at the market overflowing with greens and reds and yellows and purples—it’s simply divine to be able to put raw greens and veggies on a platter, drizzle on some oil and a sprinkling of this gomasio. I don’t know about you, but this time of year I have trouble keeping salad dressing around, we go through it so fast.
My other challenge is that I don’t particularly like the taste of seaweeds, which are a major component in most other saltless seasonings.
You may also be aware that much of the salt we get at the store is “iodized,” that is to say iodine is added as a supplement to ensure that we get enough of it in our diet. Well, both sesame seeds and nettles are good natural sources of iodine. On the whole, this blend boasts myriad beneficial vitamins, minerals, and proteins. It’s good medicine for the whole body.
And my favorite way of taking my medicine is always by eating it in ridiculously tasty dishes. Hands down. Food is good.
Salt-free Herbal Gomasio
1 part nettle leaf
1 part celery seed
1 part sesame seed
1/2 part milk thistle seed
1/2 part fennel seed
1/2 part onion or garlic
Mix all the above in a small bowl. Place in an herb mill (or an empty salt or pepper grinder).
Other variations: try some dry citrus rind, pepper, or a small amount of mustard seeds. If you like seaweed, give it a whirl.
Feel free to post your own variations and ideas in the comments!