Herbal Candy – Techniques and Uses

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Disclaimer: the following information is provided purely as brain candy to the herbal geek.  Consult with a skilled herbalist prior to taking any plant-based medicine since it’s just that – medicine.

Herbal candies are a wonderful way to make herbs something to look forward to and an easy way to get medicine into picky eaters and children.  Tonic herbs that are to be taken over the long-term lend themselves particularly well to preparation in this manner and there is a list of suggestions to try at the end of this post.

Before using an herb or combination for the first time, make sure to research it in at least two or three herbal resources in order to get a complete picture of its character and action on the body. Begin by taking it in small doses to ensure that your body doesn’t react to it in an unpleasant or unpredictable manner, increasing slowly over time.

To make the candies, you do need powdered herbs.  Ideally, grind your herbs and roots yourself using a small coffee grinder. (Keep it for herbs only since otherwise your coffee will eternally be flavoured with herbs while your herbs will taste like coffee.)  When it’s necessary to have a very fine and uniform product, the ground herbs can be passed through a fine wire-mesh sieve (even a tea ball will work) prior to use.  Always use well-dried herb or root material since fresh plant matter contains too much water and would yield a pulpy mess.

The reasons for grinding your own powders are many:

  • Powdered herbs are the easiest to adulterate using cheaper fillers, making your own ensures you have the right herb.
  • The shelf life of powders is much shorter than cut and sifted herb or dried root. At home, grind the amount of powder necessary for a month or so and store the rest of the herb in a cool dark place.
  • Freshly powdered spices and herbs taste and smell far more enticing than the bottled or bagged spices that have been gathering dust at the local grocery store or herbal shop.
  • Making your own herbal powders is usually less expensive than purchasing the powders.
  • A blend of herbs can be powdered together for use in cooking, tincturing, pill-making, encapsulation.

However, certain roots and berries are particularly hard, woody or fibrous and don’t powder easily unless aided by an industrial-strength mill; these can be purchased in powder form from a reputable supplier. Examples include:

  • Eleuthero root: retains long filaments when ground
  • Hawthorne berries: although this can be powdered at home, it should be sifted if so because any remaining bits are hard enough to crack a tooth on
  • Turmeric root: whole root will break a coffee grinder – I know, I’ve tried
  • Wild yam root: although a coffee grinder will usually survive, it will carry permanent battle scars from the ordeal

So on to candy-making!  There are two basic recipes that I work from when making herbal candy, depending on the type of herbs to be used and the food sensitivities of those consuming them:

Variation #1 – Mentioned way back in Juliette de Bairacly-Levy’s book ‘’Nature’s Children’’ and Rosemary Gladstar’s favourite method, this recipe uses a combination of nut butter and liquid sweetener as a base along with powdered milk to thicken.  It is a good choice for those who wish to increase their intake of protein and calcium and the taste can be customized depending on the ingredients chosen:

  • 1 cup unsweetened nut butter (sesame, almond, peanut, cashew, etc. When calcium is the priority, tahini (sesame seed butter) is the best choice. When protein is the priority, a 4:3 combination of sunflower:peanut butter can be used.)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup thick liquid sweetener (honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, molasses, etc.)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup powdered herbs
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup finely chopped dried fruit (optional; you can also use chocolate if you want to be decadent or needed added incentive to take your medicine)
  • 2+ cups powdered milk (those who are lactose intolerant or vegan can use raw carob powder or oat flour instead)
  • Sesame seeds, grated coconut, carob powder or skim milk powder to coat (optional)

Variation #2 – This recipe uses a combination of stewed, dried fruit as both the sweetener and base along with carob powder to thicken.  It is a good choice for those who wish to increase their consumption of dietary fiber:

  • 2 cups dried fruit, chopped small + 1/4 – 2/3 cup water heated together and stewed until a thick paste results. You will probably have to mash the fruit a bit. (Dates, figs, prunes and dried apricots work well. For a different flavour, you can add a bit of citrus zest or a stick of cinnamon to the stewing fruit)
  • 1/4 cup thin liquid sweetener (maple syrup)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup powdered herbs
  • 2 tbsp flax meal (optional)
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)
  • 1/4 cup carob chips (optional)
  • 1-2 cups carob powder
  • Sesame seeds, grated coconut, carob powder or skim milk powder to coat (optional)

The instructions for either recipe are the same:

  1. Place all the ingredients except for the skim milk or carob powder in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth.
  2. Add either the skim milk powder or the carob powder, a 1/2 cup at a time, pulsing between additions. Continue adding powder until the paste comes together into a stiff dough.
  3. Roll the dough into balls. For a finished look, roll the balls in sesame seeds, grated coconut, carob powder, almond meal or skim milk powder.
  4. Keep the candies refrigerated in an air-tight container where they will keep 2-3 months (if of course they last that long). They also freeze well.
  5. If you don’t have a food processor, the mixture can be hand-blended together at step 1. At step 2, continue hand-blending until the dough is too stiff to mix with a spoon and then knead by hand to add the last of the skim milk or carob powder.

As a general rule, take one candy a day for tonic purposes (long-term use). When working with more strongly medicinal herbs or when a more strongly medicinal effect is required, you may need to calculate the dose of herb that is taken in each candy however.  This can be done with a simple bit of math and a kitchen scale:

Dose/candy (mg) = mass of herb (g) x 1000 (mg/g) / total number of candies

Let’s look at a concrete example. Consider a batch of 37 herbal candies made with a quarter cup of dong quai.  The mass of dong quai for that quarter cup is found to have a mass of 35g.  Therefore the dose of each herb per candy, in milligrams, would be calculated as follows according to the above equation:

Dose/candy (mg) = (35g of dong quai) x 1000mg/g)/37 candies

= (35 000mg of dong quai)/37 candies

= 946mg dong quai / candy

To give you an idea how much herb that is, consider that a 00-sized gelatin capsule contains between 500-750mg depending on the density of the herb being encapsulated. Therefore in our example above, our candy dose would be approximately equal to taking 1 and a half or 2 capsules, again depending on the herb in question.

Although the possibilities are endless, some herb suggestions to consider include:

  • Increased stamina and resistance to stress: Eleuthero, ginseng, rhodiola
  • Concentration and studies: Gotu kola, brahmi
  • Menstrual difficulties: Dong quai, shatavari, vitex berries, wild yam
  • Liver congestion/issues: Milk thistle seed, dandelion root
  • Skin conditions: Burdock root, sarsaparilla root, yellow dock root
  • Lactation: Shatavari, brewer’s yeast, oats, fenugreek

Finally, since many of the herbs suggested for use in candies are tonic and that their use is often quite regular over a long period of time, this is probably where I should mention when not to take them, and why.  There are a few situations in which tonics are contraindicated and these include:

  • You’re sick: When you’re sick (we’re talking acute illness such as cold, flu, infection, etc.), take herbs or medicines to get rid of the illness rather than to sustain and build. Taking tonics can be counterproductive, building and feeding the pathogens rather than the body itself.
  • Digestion is poor: An inability to properly digest and assimilate food is known as low agni (low digestive fire) in the Ayurvedic system and Spleen/Stomach (meridian) weakness in the Chinese system. The symptoms in both cases are similar and usually involve loose stools or diarrhea with undigested pieces of food evident in the feces. When digestion is poor many of the richer tonics (particularly Chinese Blood Tonics such as Dang Gui, lycii berries, prepared Rhemannia & Fo-Ti) can aggravate the condition. Most tonics are usually quite rich and thus require good digestion to be processed by the body. Taking tonics with food around noon-time, when digestive fire is highest can help. It’s also good to avoid taking them with caffeinated beverages which tend to have a laxative effect.
  • You’re cleansing: When doing a body cleanse, the point is to eliminate, not to build. Taking tonics would do the opposite. Finish the cleanse and then use tonics to re-build.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Yum. Very thorough and lovely post! I love how you work in all that materia medica. One note though, if you’re making candy or medicine with wild yam, is that it’s an at-risk plant so it’s important to buy only grown or ethically wildcrafted roots (or grow it yourself), instead of simply wild. They’re labeled if they’re ethically wildcrafted so it’s not too hard to figure out. Also, United Plant Savers had great resources to help guide us in our choices related to at-risk and endangered plants, including pretty comprehensive lists.

    1. auralaforest says:

      Really good point! It’s also worth it to not that therer are a lot of ways to get around using wild yam. While no herb is its exact equivalent, there are other combos that can provide similar effect.

  2. I just looked through it again, and I really do love your recipes…food as medicine is such a beautiful way to integrate the needs of our body and spirits and I enjoy your regular postings. Don’t stop.

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