Holly Bellebuono is an internationally regarded herbalist, teacher, and author of books about herbal medicine, natural health, and women’s empowerment. The Healing Kitchen, Cooking with Nourishing Herbs for Health, Wellness, and Vitality (Roost Books, Boulder, 2016) is a sprightly introduction to the use of herbs to enjoy their flavors and reap their benefits. As befits a noted herbalist, teacher, and coach, Bellebuono guides the reader through the process of foraging, preparing, and cooking a wide range of native wild plants like nettles, hawthorn, and dandelions, complemented by more exotic roots and powders.
Bellebuono has authored seven books, including An Herbalist’s Guide to Formulary, The Art and Science of Creating Effective Herbal Remedies for practitioners and health professionals. By contrast, The Healing Kitchen is intended for all of us as a way to introduce healthful herbs into the foods we eat, rather than limiting them to medicines. To this end, her book is a useful companion to more traditional cookbooks.
Bellebuono begins with herbs as additions to salts, vinegars, oils, and sweeteners and then follows with nourishing drinks and healing foods (including nourishing breakfasts and main dishes). Along the way she educates the reader about the health and flavor profile of various herbs – giving us tools to experiment on our own. I appreciated the simplicity of the formulations and the clarity of the recipes.
Admittedly not a kitchen rat, Bellebuono has invited friends and colleagues to share recipes, which provides for nice diversity, such as Scandinavian nettle soup with fish, ricotta gnocchi, and rose petal rice pudding. There are bios for the contributors along with a handy resource list that includes cookbooks, sources for herbs, and places to learn about herbal medicine.
The Healing Kitchen is designed with other useful cross references as well. Each recipe in the book has an icon that indicates its primary health benefit: digestive support, immune support, clarity and memory, etc. There is an index of recipes by name or ingredient and an index by health benefit.
Illustrated sidebars featuring medicinal herbs appear throughout the book. Many of these herbs can be foraged – such as sumac, plantain, or red clover. Others are common garden plants such as lavender, rosemary, and mint. There is also a handy chart that demystifies the flavors and benefits of common herb powders. Shatavari root, for example, is resin-like and promotes clarity and memory.
As I write, I’m sipping a glass of cold Heart to Heart Tea, which is meant to strengthen the physical heart muscle but also to provide support for those who’ve suffered grief, loss, or heartache. It has a mild, sweet, meadow-y flavor and contains hawthorn leaves, berries and rose petals. Like all the recipes in the book, this one was straightforward and didn’t require any special equipment or techniques. Also, like many of the recipes, the ingredients were decidedly not in my spice cabinet.
Since foraging for wild rose petals wasn’t possible on a February morning in Upstate New York, I took my copy of the Healing Kitchen with me to the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY to test out their bulk spice department. Remarkably, I was able to find everything on my list: nettles, rose buds, rose hips, hawthorn berries and leaves, lemongrass, lemon balm, holy basil ashwagandha powder, and mugwort.
This was how, on a cold, snowy afternoon I was able to fill my kitchen with the grassy scent of summer as I created several different teas, tonics, and infusions along with one very green and creamy fish soup. Though many of the recipes are still out of reach, given the season, I’m looking forward to Bellebuono’s coaching as a I explore the many therapeutic wild things in my back yard.
Holly Bellebuono has practiced as a professional medical herbalist for 25 years. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard where she directs the Bellebuono School of Herbal Medicine. She is also currently Executive Director of a continuing eduction program on Martha’s Vineyard (called ACE MV), which offers programs and credentials in health care, education, trades, renewable energy and languages as well as workforce development courses.
(Laura Shore, 2/25/20)