Apples show up at farmers’ markets and grocery stores all over at this time of year, but you may not know that apples and roses belong to the same plant family -- Rosaceae (as do pears, quince and many more). The flowers of the apple tree offer a clue: the blossom is made of 5 sepals, and inside these are 5 petals, which usually overlap. The stamens also occur in multiples of 5.
But it’s the fruit of this blossom that comes to us in such abundance at this time of year. And the apple is full of delicious health benefits that herbalists have recognized for centuries. The famous phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” originated as the Welsh proverb "Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An' you'll make the doctor beg his bread” in the 19th century. Legendary Appalachian herbalist Tommie Bass wrote “.... apples good for constipation, dry apples good for diarrhea.” Bass’s, and many other herbalists’ use of the apple has not been limited to the fruit, however. The leaves and the bark of the tree are astringent and can be used internally for teas to aid in digestion and heartburn and externally as a poultice for poison ivy and bug bites and as a compress for sore and swollen eyes.
While we may not all have access to apple bark and leaves, apples and apple ciders are plentiful this time of year. Unsweetened, apple cider -- especially from tart apples -- is full of antioxidants. Cider is a great medium for steeping herbs to increase its benefits. Try infusing chamomile in warmed apple cider for a lovely before-bed beverage. It’s a nice, calming beverage for kids and adults alike, although adults may want to try this with some hard cider!
Fermented apple cider, or apple cider vinegar has been highly regarded throughout history. In 400 B.C. Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, used it for its amazing health qualities. Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the “mother” (strands of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky appearance) contains potassium, magnesium, iron and other minerals. It’s high in prebiotics that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Studies have also shown that apple cider vinegar can help reduce blood glucose levels.
Apple cider vinegar is the base for two effective herbal tonics for the coming cold and flu season. The first is called Four Thieves Vinegar, versions of which have reputedly been in use since Medieval times. Legend has it that when the Black Plague swept through the city of Marseilles in the 7th century, a group of herb-savvy thieves successfully looted the graves and homes of victims of the plague without succumbing to it themselves. They did this by dousing their bodies in this herbal vinegar which includes strong antibacterial and antiviral properties. Here is one recipe, adapted from The Nourished Kitchen:
Four Thieves Vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh lavender flowers
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
2 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
2 tbsp chopped fresh anise hyssop
4 cloves garlic, (peeled and crushed)
1 quart raw apple cider vinegar
Toss herbs and garlic together in a one-quart mason jar, cover with vinegar and marinate for seven to ten days in a sunny location. After seven to ten days, strain the vinegar through a fine-mesh sieve into a second, clean 1-quart glass jar.
Store at room temperature until ready to use and serve as you would any seasoned vinegar: as a basis for vinaigrettes or as a seasoning for braised meats and vegetables.
For the Vinaigrette
Mix together 1 part vinegar, 3 parts extra virgin olive oil, and 1/2 part prepared mustard and 2 cloves of crushed, organic garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whirl the mixture together in a blender until combined or shake vigorously in a capped glass jar.
The second apple cider vinegar recipe to keep around this season is called Fire Cider. This healthful concoction has many variations but the one we use here was formulated over four decades ago by esteemed herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who has shared her recipe freely.
½ cup grated fresh horseradish root
½ cup or more fresh chopped onions
¼ cup or more chopped garlic
¼ cup or more grated ginger
Chopped fresh or dried cayenne pepper ‘to taste’. Can be whole or powdered. ‘To taste’ means it should be hot, but not so hot you can’t tolerate it. Better to make it a little milder than too hot; you can always add more pepper later if necessary.
Optional ingredients; turmeric, echinacea, cinnamon, etc.
Place herbs in a half-gallon canning jar and cover with enough raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to cover the herbs by at least three to four inches. Cover with a tight fitting lid.
Place jar in a warm place and let it steep for three to four weeks. Best to shake every day to help in the maceration process.
After three to four weeks, strain out the herbs and reserve the liquid.
Add honey to taste.* Tip: Warm the honey first so it mixes in well.
* ’To taste’ means your Fire Cider should taste hot, spicy, and sweet. “A little bit of honey helps the medicine go down……”
Rebottle and enjoy! It’s best to refrigerate your Fire Cider, but it will keep for several months unrefridgerated if stored in a cool pantry.
A small shot glass daily serves as an excellent tonic or take a few teaspoons if you feel a cold coming on. Take it more frequently if necessary to help your immune system do battle.
For more information about Rosemary Gladstar and Fire Cider visit her website.
Of course, you can also get your apple benefits by eating them! We found this healthy and yummy fall recipe on Epicurious.com:
Roasted Brussels Sprout and Apple Salad
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
1 apple, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons white miso
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup hazelnuts, finely chopped
4 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
Heat oven to 400°F. Grease a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil. In a bowl, combine brussels sprouts, apple, onion and remaining 1 tablespoon oil; toss to coat. Roast on baking sheet, turning once, until sprouts are brown and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together tahini, vinegar, syrup, miso, red pepper and 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water until smooth; set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Toast hazelnuts 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Divide spinach, sprout mixture, hazelnuts, blue cheese and tahini dressing among 4 plates. Season with salt and black pepper.
Less healthy apple recipes abound on the internet: tarts, pies, muffins, galettes, donuts, cakes -- you name it! If you decide to indulge (and really . . . you should), know that your star ingredient, the amazing apple, is one of a whopping 7,500 cultivars that comes to us with beneficial bounty every fall.