Cough syrup meets dessert
When winter and flu season come around, we often brew up a batch of François’ special tisane to boost the immune system and diminish cold symptoms. Featuring wild ginger, Labrador tea and tusselage flowers (coltsfoot), it is quite alright. Sometimes we throw in some calendula. Citrus and honey are natural additions, even a splash of rum - much better.
It’s hardly tried and true, but that’s because we rarely get sick - thanks to all the wild stuff surely. Maybe also because we don’t have kids and live in the country. This year however, that throat-chest cold that went through my circle of friends in Montreal made it to St-Roch. So I took down the pots of dried flowers and weeds and made a batch of herbal tea. I also did the chicken soup thing, and pumped up the garlic and chilli dosage in everything, no problem. I never got sick - as in stay-at-home or work-less-than-50-hours sick, but the scratchy throat lingered. There is only so much tisane a girl can drink. Bored, and because everyone else around me was sick, my ears perked up when François got talking about the ancient remedy for cough syrup with wild ginger.
So I made one. A light cane sugar and water solution that I infused with a ton of wild ginger (this is expensive cough syrup). And then I threw in some lemons for good vitamin C measure, and at the end just to steep, some Labrador tea and that awful tusselage, following the tisane trio. Because I happened to be making wild strawberry-sweetgrass coulis at the time, I added some pulp to my syrup just to give it that familiar red colour and fruity taste. Otherwise, elderberry would have been a good choice, with its inherent anti-viral properties. Next time.
The final product was tasty, somewhere between medicinal and delicious like dessert. I know that if I left out the coltsfoot and lemon rind bitterness, it would swing all the way to dessert. In any case, this is the best cough syrup you will ever taste.
I am no sweet tooth, and have never been able to ingest cough syrup; ask my mother. As a kid, it took several people to hold me down in order to get a tablespoon of the stuff in my mouth, as with fish pills. But this wild, gourmet stuff, I could potentially slurp. When my throat was acting up this week at work, I just walked into the cooler and took a swig, no fuss. Other staff members, whether feeling under the weather or not, followed. (Don’t worry, not directly from the mason jar). Intrigue, delight! We were even passing it around by the teaspoon to curious clients. The general consensus is that it works too! It certainly soothes the throat, but it could very well be the novelty or the yumminess - the oh so powerful placebo effect kicking in. Not that that is so different from any over the counter medication, I reckon. So why not go the delicious route with home made cough syrup that doubles as dessert?
Come to think of it, that’s my solution to everything.. I’ll take oranges over Vitamin C pills, and fish and greens over omega 3 pills any day. A diet big on fruits and vegetables, garlic, ginger and chilli, wild plants and mushrooms with all their phytochemicals and anti-oxidants, on top of small portions of natural protein and fats.. It’s all the doctor ever ordered, and so easy to follow. Good shopping and cooking is all any of us really need.
Ok, and an occasional rest. A hit of ‘cold potion’, tisane or cough syrup made with love can only be bonus when there is a killer bug going around.
I often used to make a ‘cold potion’ in other kitchens I worked, for the cooks as soon as anyone seemed to be coming down with something. Because the reality of kitchen life is that there is seldom question of taking the day off – you generally have to be on your death bed to acceptably bail on your team. In any case, the idea of a ‘cold potion’ just ignited the cook in me - the inherent desire to concoct something good for others. For staff meal, it was time to get creative with a garlicky, gingery, spicy stir-fries heavy on the veg and greens, or a hearty chicken soup. More practical was a liquid potion, easy to down on the line (there’s not always time for a meal). Rummaging through any restaurant walk-in, you find the necessary components for a decent remedy or two. The starting point for any magic healing beverage, hot or cold requires pulling out the ginger, citrus and honey. Ask the bar tender for a hit of hard stuff and/or ginger ale and you’re set. There are always other tasty, nutraceuticals (Chocolate! Nettle! Mushrooms!) one can throw in. Now I have a full arsenal of extra wild stuff to add to the mix.
Cold season is actually, kind of, almost fun.