Posted by Ingrid Bauer, M.D., M.S. & Benjamin Zappin, L.Ac. on Nov 22nd 2021
We believe food is an essential foundation for health and wellness. In our practices and in our shop, we’re constantly navigating the intersection of food and medicine, and bone broth is one timeless preparation in which the kitchen and apothecary come together. Making and enhancing your own bone broth recipes is a simple, economical, and endlessly creative way to create customized remedies tailored to your tastes and needs.
Is Bone Broth Good For You?
Bone broth is incredibly nutritious, providing protein, gelatin, collagen, vitamins, and minerals. These key nutrients benefit virtually every system in our bodies, including our digestive, nervous, and immune systems as well as our bones and joints. The principles of herbal medicine can help direct these resources where you need them most, amplify their effects, and add complementary benefits.
Both scientific evidence and traditional healing systems support the use of herbs in broth and soups to achieve various therapeutic goals, either to address specific conditions or to provide basic nourishment. Many Western culinary herbs and spices offer well documented healthful properties, though these benefits have often been seen as secondary to flavor among those who make use of them. In East Asian dietetics, however, there is a rich tradition of explicitly celebrating the intersection of cuisine and herbal healing, so much so that flavor and medicinal value are inextricably entwined.
Ready to enjoy some epic bone broth, grow your skills in the kitchen, and learn some new methods to care for yourself and loved ones?
Get More Connected with Mindful Sourcing
As those who have lived in areas densely populated with vegetarian enclaves, and as clinicians, we've had the opportunity to hear a lot of people share ethical concerns about eating meat. A common conviction that we hear, and agree with strongly, is that if you’re going to take the life of an animal, it is more ethical to use as much of the creature as possible. We have heard many personal narratives of individuals who become convinced that if they are going to eat a chicken, they’d like to learn to kill and clean the animal as well, and we commend this.
By making and eating bone broth, we acknowledge that this is a small planet and the impact of our every choice is great. Taking responsibility for the world in which we live has incredible therapeutic value, as we are empowered to make meaningful decisions and engage in relationships of reciprocity with what we are given.
Here are some practices to become a more mindful consumer by making and consuming bone broth:
- Buy your bones or broth locally: Source your animal ingredients from reputable butchers that work with ranchers in your local landscape and economy. If you’re Oakland locals (or visitors), you can also walk next door to our whole-animal butcher friends at Clove and Hoof and select from the variety of stocks they make, always ethically sourced. We also offer Beyond Bone Broth by Jarrow in our online shop.
- Honor what you eat: When you consume this medicinal food, offer gratitude to the earth and animals, to the farmers and processors, and all that contributed to bringing this rich broth to your table—including your wonderful self!
- Use bone broth as a gateway to your local landscape: Cooking with ingredients from your surroundings can nourish the soul in unspeakable ways. Many of our favorite wild herbs to cook with and use medicinally come from the Apiaceae (parsley) or Lamiaceae (mint) families, making them easy to swap in for common pantry staples (usually in smaller amounts, due to their greater potency). Wild spice relatives are perfect for seasoning dishes cooked in wild places, and they can also be brought home to help maintain your connection to the wilderness. We love to cook with the seeds and leaves of Angelica breweri (brewer’s angelica), Osmorhiza occidentalis (Western sweet cicely), and Ligusticum grayi (Gray’s licorice root), herbs related to cumin, coriander, fennel, parsley, and celery. (Please read up on responsible harvesting practices and make sure you can identify your plants!)
Bone Broth Benefits (and How to Get Them)
SUPPORT DIGESTION WITH AROMATIC INGREDIENTS
We experience foods most notably through our linked senses of smell and taste. The aroma and flavor of an ingredient is an indicator of its potency—when you taste something medicinal, you should say “Wow!” A high wow factor suggests high nutritional value, and our bodies instinctively know this, so they can’t help but exclaim over it.
Including more aromatic ingredients into your bone broth is a great way to amplify its therapeutic effects and support overall vitality. And luckily, almost any culinary spice you can think of (ginger, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, turmeric, anise, basil, etc.) helps stimulate and empower digestion. Many also have the ability to reduce undesirable bacteria, along with calming and carminative actions to help avoid and/or settle gastrointestinal turmoil to naturally relieve gas and discomfort.
Here are some ways to take advantage of the therapeutic action of culinary herbs:
- Buy whole seeds: Spices hold flavor much longer in whole form, so crush ingredients like coriander, cumin, fennel, and black pepper with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder right before use. Trust us, once you experience the difference, you won’t go back to powdered again!
- Grow your own herbs: Freshness matters. If you have parsley, thyme, rosemary, and oregano that can be picked moments before throwing into your recipe, you’ll enjoy vastly superior potency (as well as the pleasure of tending to a small garden). Most culinary herbs can be easily grown in a wide range of climates, even in pots kept in city apartments.
- Take time to smell the rosemary: Ever wonder why the smell of simmering soup makes your mouth water? It’s because the first stage of digestion is “olfactory excitation”—basically, the scent of food signaling your body to get ready to digest an imminent meal. Adding aromatic herbs to an already prepared bone broth is an easy way to heighten its therapeutic value, triggering a cascade of digestive events that optimize nutrient utilization—a great way to make sure you are absorbing all those wonderful nutrients, collagen, and healthy fats. So breathe deeply!
SUPPLEMENT TO STRENGTHEN BONES
While there is a lot of hype around bone broth as a supplement for bone health, the truth is that a cup of milk has more calcium than a cup of broth. But with some strategic supplementation, you can soup-up your broth for better skeletal support.
Here are some ways to enhance your homemade stocks for bone health:
- Raid your spice rack: Many herbs traditionally associated with bone health make excellent additions to many a broth recipe. Stinging nettle leaf, horsetail, dandelion leaf, alfalfa leaf, oat straw, and red clover leaf/blossom all contain vitamins and minerals essential to osteo health. If you are making your own bone broth, mix the herbs in with the rest of your recipe for the full cook time. Otherwise, tie them up in cheesecloth or a mesh bag and let them simmer for 20 minutes before adding the liquid to your soup, risotto, chili, or other meal. Use about a tablespoon of herbs (alone or in combination) for every pint of liquid.
- Tap into Traditional Chinese Medicine: TCM systems recognize an association between the Liver and Kidneys, and nourishment of the tendons and bones, respectively (and possibly ligaments and other connective tissues as well). It follows then, that bone broth’s ability to nourish the Liver and Kidneys would also support bone strength, flexibility, and tissue repair. Chinese medicinals that enrich the Liver and Kidneys include eucommia bark (du zhong) and teasel root (xu duan), so simmer 30 grams of each of these herbs with 3 to 4 pounds of oxtail bones to make a traditional East Asian broth for systemic support.
- Steep your greens: Incorporate dark leafy greens and dairy into your final recipes to increase the mineral and calcium content.
Basic Bone Broth Recipe
Makes about 12 cups.
- Approximately one gallon freezer bag full of saved bones/carcass (about one chicken, half a turkey, or 2-3 lbs beef, lamb, or pork bones)
- 1/4 vinegar or lemon juice
- Saved vegetable ends (optional)
- Herbs of choice (optional)
- 12 cups water
- If using beef or lamb bones, spread bones on foil-lined baking sheet and roast in over at 450°F for 20 minutes.
- Transfer bones and any vegetables into a 4-quart soup pot and add water to cover.
- Add vinegar or lemon juice.
- Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 2 to 24 hours (the longer, the better), occasionally skimming off any gunk that rises to top.
- Twenty minutes before finishing, add any fresh/dried herbs.
- Remove from heat. Once cool, strain out and compost bones and vegetables.
Dandelion & Nettle Bone Broth Soup Recipe for Osteo Health
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 cups fresh stinging nettle leaves
- 10 fresh dandelion leaves, chopped
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 qt. bone broth
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sauté vegetables in oil until leaves wilt and roots start to soften.
- Top with broth and simmer until vegetables are mashable, about 20 minutes.
- Puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency.
- Mix in cream and season to taste.
BOOST YOUR MOOD WITH UPLIFTING INGREDIENTS
Cooking with broths and stocks is an exceptional way to provide support to the nervous system and influence the mood, in both profound and subtle ways. Fats and minerals present in meat and bones nourish the nervous system, while herbs and spices uplift and relax to promote mental and emotional well-being. Cooking with aromatic herbs and vegetables, which shift the mood and stimulate desire, is a fantastic way to engage the senses to instill healthy, mindful eating habits.
When patients report struggling with anxiety and depression, we often look to food as a potential pathway for nourishing both mind and spirit. Cooking can be a form of self care, as well as a gateway to community. We often direct those seeking our guidance to simple recipes and recommend sharing them with others, to foster an empowering sense of competency, creativity, and connection.
Foods with bone broth deliver abundant and easily absorbed minerals, proteins, and healthy fats, so consuming them can create a sense of being fully nourished, giving rise to feelings of safety and security that calm the nervous system. Combine this with the familiar aromas of a basic mirepoix (a mix of carrot, onion, and celery) and comforting herbs, and you create a relaxed and receptive state of body and mind ready to receive all the benefits in your bowl.
Here are some mood-boosting and nerve-soothing herbs to add to your epic bone broth:
- Rosemary is traditionally used to enhance cognition and boost the mood.
- Lavender, a common ingredient in French cooking, soothes and calms the mind and body.
- Oat straw and milky oat tops nourish the nerves and calm the spirit.
- Damiana is often included in stocks and sauces in rural Mexico to enhance desire and uplift the nervous system.
- Chiles shift perspective and heighten mood with their ability to bring buried joy (and sweat!) to the surface.
- Adaptogens are a great addition to broths. Eleuthero, rhodiola, astragalus, and reishi mushrooms are wonderful choices.
- Saffron is a potent herbal ally that promotes joy and even euphoria. A spice made from the reproductive parts of the crocus flower, saffron has gained steam as a popular herbal supplement in recent years and can be found in capsules and tinctures. We don’t see many clinical herbalists using it, but strongly endorse its inclusion in medicinal soups such as bouillabaisse, paella, risotto, and a variety of Moroccan tagines we’ve learned about while traveling to Morocco with our musician friends. Saffron is versatile and melds well with fish and red meat, especially lamb.
Mood-Boosting Saffron Lamb Stew Recipe with Bone Broth
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large white onion, grated
- 1 tsp. cinnamon, powdered
- 1 tsp. paprika, powdered
- 1 tsp. dried ginger, powdered
- 1 tsp. cumin, powdered
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 1 leg of lamb, butterflied and cubed
- 4 large tomatoes, diced
- 2 qts. lamb or beef bone broth
- 4 cups cooked garbanzo beans
- 2 cups green beans, halved
- Salt, to taste
- 1 pinch saffron
- Sauté onion in oil until translucent.
- Add spices and half the parsley, cook 1 minute.
- Add meat, cook until browned.
- Add tomatoes and top with enough stock to cover, simmer 45 minutes (stirring occasionally).
- Add garbanzo beans, green beans, salt, and remaining broth.
- Pull out 1 cup broth, mix in saffron, and set aside to infuse.
- Simmer main mixture 90 min. on stove or 2 to 3 hours in oven at 225° F, until meat falls apart.
- Add saffron-infused broth. Garnish with parsley. Serve.
Lily Bulb (bai he) is a Chinese herb boasting over 2000 years of documented use for “clearing the Heart and calming the Spirit.” Here is a recipe to try with this trusted herb:
TCM Bone Broth Soup to Calm the Spirit
- 2 cups lotus seed (lian zi)
- 1 cup lily bulb (bai he)
- 8 cups bone broth
- 1 lb. lean pork or chicken
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1 large slice fresh ginger
- Salt, to taste
- Soak lotus seed and lily bulb overnight.
- Add both to broth and simmer until soft.
- Separately, sauté meat with scallion, ginger, and salt.
- Slice meat and transfer sautéed ingredients to pot and simmer with lotus and lily 5 minutes.
SUPPORT IMMUNITY WITH EAST ASIAN INGREDIENTS
As mentioned earlier, Traditional Chinese Medicine views food as therapeutic, so it’s not surprising that many ingredients prevalent in regional cuisine are also famed for their immunity enhancing effects. TCM also tells us that consuming warm and nourishing foods during the winter can fortify our bodies against seasonal health threats, so infusing these ingredients into nourishing bone broths offers a beautiful synergy for safeguarding our well-being.
Here are some ways to supercharge your broth with East Asian culinary principles:
- Repel health threats with aromatics: We've already highlighted the importance of culinary herbs for flavor and digestion, but spicy ingredients (like those found in Chinese five spice seasoning blend) also have germ-fighting and fungi-mitigating properties. We can wield aromatic allies to optimize our microbiome and discourage other undesirable organisms from taking hold in our systems.
- Put up a fight with polysaccharides: These complex sugars found in medicinal mushrooms and adaptogenic astragalus are famous for their immune-enhancing properties. These and other polysaccharide-containing ingredients have been valued in Asian medicinal cultures for centuries, and a growing body of scientific research is accelerating their adoption in the West. Enjoy the benefits of astragalus in our Jade Windscreen bone broth recipe, inspired by traditional Chinese immunity remedy, Yu Ping Feng San.
- Ally with fungi: Medicinal mushrooms benefit the immune system in a variety of ways via different compounds. Reishi mushroom helps optimize the immune response with triterpenoids, which can inhibit allergic responses, while turkey tail mushroom can increase natural protective cell activity. Mushrooms such as cordyceps, chaga, reishi, maitake, shiitake, and turkey tail can all be used to impart these benefits—along with earthy and savory flavors that many find delicious!
- Embrace the guardianship of garlic: No medicinal herb/food has been studied more than garlic for its varied benefits in addressing harmful microbes and supporting the cardiovascular system. Garlic, onions, and other relatives from the Allium family possess volatile oils that help defend the digestive system from microscopic intruders. The same volatile oils are excreted by the lungs, making these plants useful in prevention and treatment of common respiratory complaints. Garlic is also thought to support proliferation of beneficial bacterial flora in the gut. Below is a great recipe utilizing this versatile herb.
Garlic Bone Broth Chicken Stew for Immune Support
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3-4 lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 large onions, grated
- 40-100 cloves garlic, peeled
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 cup chicken bone broth
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Heat oil in 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Season chicken with salt and pepper and transfer to Dutch oven.
- Cook until browned, turning once (about 15 minutes).
- Transfer to 8" x 8" baking dish and set aside.
- Add garlic to Dutch oven and cook until browning begins (about 6 minutes).
- Pour broth over garlic and bring to a boil.
- Transfer about ¼ of garlic to baking dish (with chicken). Mash remaining garlic into stock.
- Pour garlic stock over chicken and bake until chicken is glazed and tender (15 to 20 minutes).
WANT MORE TCM-INSPIRED HEALTHY CUISINE?
TRY THESE CONGEE RICE RECIPES FOR DIGESTION!
You might also enjoy:
- Traditional Chinese Herbs for Digestive Support
- Herbal Tinctures for Natural Health Support
- The Five Flavors in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Written by Ingrid Bauer, M.D., M.S. and Benjamin Zappin, L.Ac.: With experience that bridges Western and Eastern medicine, Ingrid Bauer brings rigorous scientific knowledge to Five Flavors Herbs. A graduate of the UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Medical Program and the American School of Herbalism in Santa Cruz, CA, Ingrid integrates plant-based medicine into mainstream healthcare. She is passionate about bringing holistic care to people from all walks of life. Her master’s research focused on Latino health beliefs and traditional medicine at a bilingual clinic in Oakland, CA, and she teaches workshops about herbal medicine at conferences and schools. Five Flavors Herbs co-founder Benjamin Zappin is one of the Bay Area's most respected and knowledgeable herbalists and a licensed acupuncturist. With over 20 years of experience, Benjamin synthesizes his deep knowledge of Chinese and western herbal medicine with modern medical perspectives to create effective herbal formulas and treat patients. He serves patients through Paeonia Integrative Medicine.