Using a slower cooker or multi-cooker makes traditional herbal recipes easier to manage in today’s hustle and bustle lifestyle. When you marry modern technology’s tools with the wisdom of traditional herbalism, you get daily herbal nutrition and healing that’s easy to manage no matter how crazy-busy you are. Best of all, you can use tools that serve many other purposes and, most likely, you’ve already got right in your kitchen. I like to call this Crock-Pot herbalism.
First, you’ll need a countertop cooker.
The Countertop Cooker Lineup
You can find a good countertop cooker in many places: online, in specialty shops or thrift stores, garage sales, or quite possibly tucked away in your kitchen already. Regardless of where you find yours, you’ll want to ensure that it’s right for the job. Look for a countertop, electric appliance that sustains low temperatures for hours at a time. Here are the different types of cookers to consider:
Slow cookers, such as the Crock-Pot, are simple. Most have two or three settings. The temperatures they run at varies. Try a test recipe to get a feel for how much liquid yours will evaporate. The upside to using a slow cooker, besides the low price and easy availability, is they tend to last a long time even when used for days on end. I’ve let mine run for as much as a week straight. The downside is the variance in temperature.
Multi-cookers, such as the Instant Pot, offer a wide range in temperature settings and functionality and can be expensive. They’ve got far more settings than you’ll need, but the ability to set timers and delay cooking can add extra flexibility to your day. The features you want include sustained cooking at low temperatures and the ability to let it run for several hours or more. Because they’re designed for efficiency, multi-cookers tend to hold their temperature quite well, which translates into faster evaporation of liquids in some cases. The upside to using a multi-cooker is versatility and efficiency. The downside is the price and the potential for cooking faster than expected.
Yogurt makers run at lower temperatures than slow cookers and multi-cookers (around 109-112 degrees Fahrenheit or 42-44 degrees Celsius). While they may be helpful for making herbal oils that don’t require heat extraction, they’re not hot enough for herbal oils that do require heat extraction and most other herbal soups, tangs, decoctions, teas, and syrups. I do not recommend a yogurt maker as a primary tool for this type of herbal cooking.
My favorite is the slow cooker. It’s a sturdy, dependable workhorse that can simmer away for days on end. The slow cooker’s reliability and dependability fit nicely into my home and my herbal practice.
Choose Your Recipe
Any herbal recipe that requires long, slow cooking is perfect for Crock-Pot herbalism. Rosalee’s famous Astragalus Chai is a tasty example of a traditional-style recipe that can be adapted for a countertop cooker. (If you download the PDF, you’ll get the already adapted recipe, too!) Boiled down, it’s a decoction, which means it cooks herbs that are harder to break down for a longer time at a higher-than-tea temperature to extract their properties.
The best countertop cooker herbal recipes are soups or tangs, teas or decoctions, and syrups. Look for ones using hard or tough herbs, such as the Astragalus and Codonopsis in Rosalee’s recipe. Barks, roots, mushrooms, and some seeds only begin to give up their gold after they’ve been simmered awhile, usually at least 20 minutes.
Recipe Adaptation is Key
For most recipes, you’ll need to adapt the quantity and cooking time. It’s hard to cook very small amounts in the average countertop cooker. I aim to begin with a quantity that takes up about one-third to one-half the volume of my pot. That means I’ll increase my recipe so the liquid I’m using is 1 to 1.5 quarts (.9-1.4 L) for a 3.5 quart (3.3 L) pot.
Most traditional recipes require 20 to 60 minutes of simmering. However, in Crock-Pot herbalism, recipes are cooked for 4 to 8 hours or more. We lengthen the cooking time by reducing the temperature. The key to success is using a test recipe to get to know how your countertop cooker cooks so you can adjust accurately.
How do you adapt an existing recipe designed for the stove?
Rosalee’s Five Flavors Herbal Cough Syrup is a perfect example of a recipe that’s well-suited to a countertop cooker. The original recipe calls for 20 minutes of simmering and yields 1 cup (29 ml) of finished syrup. To adapt this recipe, your choice depends on the pot you plan to use.
Let’s say you’ve got a 3.5 quart (3.3 L) slow cooker that runs a little hot. You can stick with the quantities in the recipe and let it cook for about 4 hours, then check the liquid level and potentially cook another 2 to 4 hours before straining and adding the honey. Or, you can double the recipe and cook 8 to 10 hours before straining and adding the honey.
For a multi-cooker, though, you may want to use the dry ingredients in the original recipe as-is while doubling the water and cooking on the slow cooker setting for 4 to 8 hours.
Getting to Know Your Cooker
The biggest step you can take toward successfully adapting recipes is getting to know your cooker so you can adjust the time and quantity to accommodate how it cooks. That’s why I chose one of my favorite recipes, Warm Mushroom Tang, to get you started. This medicinal soup includes dried ingredients that will absorb about a cup (240 ml) of liquid and are easily squeezed out, so it’s easy to see how your cooker runs and how quickly liquid evaporates.
When you strain the herbs, you should have about 1.75 quarts (1.6 L) of liquid remaining, so your soup should have reduced by about one-quarter in 8 hours. If you have more, your cooker runs a little cooler, so don’t increase the liquid as much when adjusting recipes. If you have less, your cooker runs a little hotter, so increase the liquid a little more. For success, adjust the liquid levels in recipes accordingly.
Warm Mushroom Tang (Soup)
A tang is a Chinese medicinal soup. The mushrooms and herbs here are immune builders, good for building your strength through the cold season.
To boost energy levels, substitute adaptogen mushrooms like sustainably harvested chaga or reishi for some of the shiitake. Add a handful of leeks or onions or 5 to 6 garlic cloves for added protection during flu and cold season. However, when making this as a test for your slow cooker or multi-cooker, I would not add them; they’ll mask how much the soup reduced through the cooking stage.
This soup is versatile. Use it as a base or stock in heartier recipes. Or serve it simply with a spritz of sesame oil, a dabble of soy sauce, and a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley over noodles or rice. I like to drink mine by the mug as a tea. However you like it, a cup or two a day is a good complement to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
What you’ll need…
- 20 medium dried shiitake mushroom caps (57 g or 2 ounces)
- 1/4 cup sliced or shredded Astragalus root (15 g or 1/2 ounce)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons shredded or cut-and-sifted ashwagandha root (15 g or 1/2 ounce)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons whole black pepper or long pepper (pippali) (15 g or 1/2 ounce)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger (about 2 inches)
- 2 quarts water (1.8 L)
1. Add all of the ingredients to your slow cooker or multi-cooker.
2. Set the cooker to high and let it cook for 8 hours. (If using an Instant Pot, set it to Slow Cook, then choose the High or More temperature setting and set the time to 8 hours.)
3. Strain the herbs from the soup. Squeeze all the liquid you can from the herbs.
4. Serve the soup or use it as a soup stock.
Yield: About 1 1/2 quarts