Simmering: winter fun with stockpot and teapot.

This month’s herbal blog party is “Winter Recipes,” hosted by Dreamseeds.

Most of my winter herbal recipes involve long-simmering pots on the back of my woodstove. Tasty broths and teas that warm a person from the inside out, and make the house smell good too.

Winter is a time for concentrated, warm foods. Put away the leafy summer herbs, and get out the roots, seeds and spices. Valerian, licorice, sarsaparilla. Flaxseeds, cardamom, nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves.

The best way to stay healthy in the winter is not to fight the fact that it’s winter. In winter, things move more slowly. We need to sleep more. We need richer, fattier foods. In winter, as mammals, we need to stay warm. (It’s quite common for people to forget to dress warmly enough for the season. It’s not unreasonable to wear a scarf indoors if you live in a drafty house.)

Good long-simmered bone broth is the best winter food I know. It’s rich in protein (gelatin) and minerals, and it warms you “to the bone.” Add some vegetables and call it soup. Use it to cook rice or beans. Or just drink it straight with a pinch of salt.

Here’s how to keep a stockpot:

1. Always save bones. (Yes, even bones that people have gnawed on. All that simmering will take care of any contamination.) Keep them in a jar or a bag in your freezer. You can separate them by animal if you like, or lump them all together for “mixed stock.”

2. When you’ve collected a good pile of bones, put them in a pot and cover them with cold water. (You can add a dash of vinegar if you like, to help draw minerals from the bones.) Put the pot over low heat. Let it come to a gentle simmer. If you’re using a gas or electric stove, turn the heat down as far as it will go. If you’ve got the stock on a woodstove, move it to a cool corner or put it up on a trivet. (I’m told you can make stock in a crockpot, too. But I’ve never used a crockpot, so I don’t know how that works.)

3. Leave the stock on gentle, low heat for 12-48 hours. (Yes, I know that’s a long time. It really does make the best stock, though.) Check on the stock every once in a while and add water if it needs it. If you’re using raw bones, there will likely be quite a bit of foamy scum that comes to the surface. Just skim it off — a little tea strainer works well for this. Try not to let the stock boil. Low heat is best for extracting gelatin. (Don’t kick yourself if it accidentally boils, though. Just turn it down. Your stock may be a little cloudy, but it will taste fine.)

4. When you can’t stand it any longer, strain out the bones. If there is a lot of fat on top, skim it off and save it for cooking (a little jar of fat in the fridge is a lovely thing). Now you have stock to play with! What will you make?

You can add warming winter spices to your stock if you like. But my favorite way to take warming spices is in tea. In winter, my “teas” are usually decoctions, simmered on the stove until they perfume the house.

Here are some of my favorite winter teas.

For people who get dry and cold in the winter: flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum), cassia / cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).

For people who get a lot of sore throats and swollen lymph nodes in the winter: echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea), red root (Ceanothus americanus), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).

For people who feel drained in the winter: wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) (use only organic ginseng, “woods-grown” if possible).

For people who get cold hands and feet in the winter: valerian (Valeriana officinalis), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) (harvest wild ginger only if it’s locally abundant; “regular” ginger can be used instead).

Oh, yes, and for everyone, because it’s so tasty: pink ginger tea. (This is, of course, one of the best things to drink when you’re down with the flu.)

Happy simmering!


  1. Kevin said,

    December 2, 2007 @ 11:21 am

    I just happened to take our turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, boiled it down with some odds and ends from the fridge (celery, carrots, parsley, etc.), and I now have a freezer full of wonderful broth.

    It gives me nightmares to see folks throw away bones. And, those folks usually have cabinets full of bouillon cubes.

  2. crabappleherbs said,

    December 2, 2007 @ 12:27 pm

    Yes, it really is something, isn’t it?

    People don’t really remember about stock anymore.

    Somehow, the advertising industry was able to convince our grandmothers that a little ball of hydrolized vegetable protein was just as good as rich, velvety gelatin stock.

    The miracles of modernity…

  3. Kiva Rose said,

    December 2, 2007 @ 7:08 pm

    Oh Rebecca, I just love the new picture…. so lovely and evocative.

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    December 2, 2007 @ 8:58 pm

    Thank you, Kiva! I couldn’t leave the other picture up, since all the leaves are down now. And I thought that this kind of weather gave a proper picture of what December’s like here.

  5. jim mcdonald said,

    December 3, 2007 @ 10:30 am

    Though it doesn’t get into herbal additions at all, this is a ~very~ nice look at the abundance of nutrition provided by bone broths:

    Traditional bone broth in modern health and disease by Allison Siebecker

  6. Riana said,

    December 3, 2007 @ 10:56 am

    Those teas sound wonderful, thank you for the recipes. I’ll make some up today. We are kind of hibernating here… by the fire.

  7. tammy said,

    December 3, 2007 @ 12:22 pm

    Hi Rebecca,
    I love your blog! I read it every week for some inspiration, good information and a laugh. I like the “tone” of the blog.
    Bone broths are amazing, but today I made a broth using green leek tops, one onion (including the peel), carrots (with peel), turnip (no peel), a cabbage core, ginger (with skin), garlic (skin), kelp, coriander, turmeric and some maitake… so it’s a veg broth. As I was chopping and sorting through what I wanted in the broth vs the compost I was wondering if I should re-evaluate what I can use in a broth. (Yes, it’s true, modern living has made my senses a little dull). Like, should I use turnip skins? I know potato skins are great … maybe not the green ones… but is it the same with turnips as it is with potatoes, are most of the nutrients in the peel? Are little bits of leek root okay? What if some of the vegetable is a little shriveled?
    Thanks again for The Herbwife’s Kitchen!

  8. crabappleherbs said,

    December 3, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

    Thanks for the link, jim.

    And Riana, what a wonderful lot of woodstove cooking! You inspire me!

    I did a little post on woodstove cooking last winter: garlic poached eggs are still one of our winter favorites. (You’ll see in that post that our stove in Vermont was a lot like yours. Our West Virginia stove is bigger, with a lot more space to cook, but no window to see the flames. Ah, well.)

    We’ve been hibernating a bit too — today we’re supposed to have wind gusts up to 60mph!

  9. crabappleherbs said,

    December 3, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

    Thank you Tammy!

    Turnip peels are fine for stock, as are wrinkled vegetables (just make sure they’re not rotten or moldy). And leek roots should be fine — just remember that they might add a bit of grit, so you’ll want to strain the stock through cheesecloth when you’re done (not a bad idea in general).

    Mmmm, mushroom stock in the winter. So tasty and nutritious…

  10. Persephone said,

    December 5, 2007 @ 7:48 pm

    mmm… rebecca, i just LOVE your posts! I made chicken stock in the crockpot last night, and added herbs from my dads garden, veggie odds and ends I’d been saving in the freezer since the last time i made stock, and a chicken carcass (I like to add acv, but i always forget!). The house smelled so good today, and now I”m using it to make an immune tonic soup (dd has the sniffles). The thing i love most about stock besides it’s nourishing aspect is how frugal it is! when you use veggie pieces you’d normally throw out, and of course the bones, it’s like getting something for nothing! 🙂

    after making the stock, can you toss the cooked veggies and bones into the compost?

  11. crabappleherbs said,

    December 5, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

    Thanks, Persephone.

    I really get into the frugality too. It’s just so satisfying.

    I put my bones / veggies in my compost. But some people don’t put animal products in their compost, especially if they’re worried about attracting scavengers. I don’t much worry about it myself. It just depends on your house compost policies!

  12. Kevin said,

    December 5, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

    For those folks who don’t want to put bones, fats, etc., into their compost, can I suggest the use of a digester? It is a great alternative in cutting down on the volume of waste in your house. I have instructions on building them here and another post about them here. It is a great method if you want to keep certain things out of your compost pile.

    But, between compost, digesting, recycling, and careful purchases of less packaging, you can cut your waste stream practically to nothing!

  13. Persephone said,

    December 6, 2007 @ 12:31 am

    I’d heard to never put meat or fat into the compost because it takes longer to break down and attracts animals, so i’m a little hesitant. do you get scavengers? (I’m assuming that if you do, it doesn’t bother you much. ;))

  14. Angelena/ Country Life said,

    December 7, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

    Hi Rebecca. I just found out about your blog from Rebecca of Pocahontas County Fare. I grew up not to far from Lobelia. I grew up in Seebert near the river. I am still in Pocahontas county. Just wanted to let you know I am really enjoying your blog- Lots of great information!!

  15. Kevin said,

    December 8, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

    I’ve got another pot of broth on right now. This is an inspirational post. We just had our last grassland chicken from a local farmer this week and I am boiling up the carcass even as I type.

    Thanks for pointing out the health benefits of real broth. I had always pushed the taste benefits, but this is added ammunition.

  16. crabappleherbs said,

    December 8, 2007 @ 7:41 pm

    Persephone — I imagine we probably do get scavengers, but our compost pile is maybe 75 feet from the house, on the other side of a hedge, so I don’t notice.

    Angelena — It’s good to “see” you again! This world is very small. And perhaps the distance between Hillsboro Elementary School and the blogosphere is not as far as one would think!

    Kevin — I’m so glad you’re inspired to make broth. It really is one of the most nourishing foods around. There’s a reason chicken soup cures everything!

  17. Carey said,

    March 9, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    Love this! I had to say I got a big hearty laugh when I read your instructions for “when you can’t stand it anymore” to remove the broth from the fire. Been there!…this has been the make -or- break of good bone broth in my home. Some days I jut can’t take working around that occupied burner and going totally against my stock-brewing conscience, remove it too soon. Still better’n nothin’.

    xx Thanks heaps, I love your blog.

  18. Tom Poe said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

    Hi, Folks: My feeble brain has convinced me there’s no good reason not to start a winter stock pot, and keep it going for the season. I’ve run the latest pot for some 3 weeks, now, and the taste just gets better. After the first week, I pulled the leftover chicken bones, pork bones out, and strained the stock. Put it back on the stove for a couple days, then added the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Some ten days later, the stock is dark, rich, and no seasoning other than what was present on the leftover meat and bones. Interestingly, when the leftover bones come out, it’s very easy to let them air dry, then dehydrate for a few days. Using a mortar/pestle, they grind into powder to add to the garden. A cleaver does a nice job of making the larger bones more manageable.

    Has anyone here run a winter stock pot for the season?

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