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 BONE BROTH – A HEALTH FOOD STAPLE

 

Making a nutritious and delicious bone broth at home is easy and just takes a bit of time. It’s one of the simplest things we can do to support our health and is a great example of food being medicine. 

Bone broth has been a staple food in traditional societies all over the world for thousands of years. It’s a rich source of minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other trace minerals that are all in a form that is easy to digest and assimilate. Cooking the broth for a long period of time breaks down the cartilage, tendons, and boney material into the same compounds of glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate that are found in expensive supplements.

A good bone broth will often solidify into a jelly-like consistency in the refrigerator after cooking. This comes from the gelatin that’s extracted during the cooking process. In Chinese medicine, this type of liquid has been used for thousands of years to help heal chronic digestive problems and weakened immune systems. In our society today, with so many chronic digestive problems, healing the digestive tract has become a central focus of treating most chronic degenerative diseases. While bone broth isn’t a cure-all for all disease, it can play a central role in supporting our body’s ability to heal.

Besides being rich in various minerals and compounds like glucosamine sulphate for joint health, bone broth also contains high amounts of proline and glycine. These are two amino acids that are important for the health of our connective tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments), the function of our immune system, the ability of our cells to detoxify, and even impact our metabolism and weight. The impact is so broad, which is why bone broth is such a valuable stable of a nutritious diet. It is also versatile, and can be adapted with medicinal herbs to increase its health impact. 

 

SELECTING INGREDIENTS

The most important part of making bone broth is to use only organic pasture-raised, grass-fed and grass-finished animals. The reason for this is that because of the cooking process, your goal is to concentrate what’s in the bones into the broth. If the bones are filled with hormones, antibiotics, or pro-inflammatory fats from a grain-fed diet, then your broth will be a concentration of those ingredients. 

Bone broth can be made from many types of bones. The most common would be beef, pork, and chicken. Some people will also make broth from fish as well (though they don’t typically carry as much of the minerals or collagen as land animals). Many people will use a mix of bones in their broth. This allows you to create a personal recipe that tastes good to you and your family. I’ll outline the different functions of the different bone sources below for those who’d like a bit more technical information.

Traditionally, bone broths are made by cooking the bones (and other ingredients) on the stove for 12-24 hours. In some cases, broths that were meant to be used as a medicine were cooked for even longer. At home, many people will cook their broths for 8-12 hours. In the modern kitchen, we also have the option of using a pressure cooker to speed up the process. Both stove-top and pressure cooking methods are good, so I encourage you to experiment with both and see what works best for you and your family. 

Most broths will include basic vegetables like carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, ginger and spices like bay leaf, peppercorns, fennel seeds, etc. In addition to these ingredients, the Chinese have added herbal medicine to the broths for millennia. The herbs added are to further support the health benefits of the base bone broth. A list of herbs that can be added to your broth are at the end of this article. I typically recommend adding only 4-6 different herbs to keep the focus of the recipe clear and keep the flavor of the soup delicious.

BASIC BONE BROTH RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 2-3 pounds of organically-raised bones (chicken, duck, beef, oxtail, lamb, pork, chicken feet, pork knuckles)
  • 1-2 leeks or 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • Garlic to taste, typically 4-5 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon celtic grey salt or Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3-4 quarts or liters of water (or enough to cover the bones in the pot)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10-12 whole peppercorns
  • 2 star anise
  • 3-4 slices of ginger
  • 4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms

There are many variations of how you can actually make your bone broth. I’ve tried to include a couple variations here to help encourage experimentation and discovering what you like personally. All are good options and each have different advantages. If you enjoy spending time cooking you can do all of them. If you want something quicker, you can do less. 

 

Pre-Cooking Steps

Pre-Soaking or Pre-Boiling– In some traditions the bones will be soaked in cold water for several hours to overnight before being used to make your bone broth. In other traditions, they will be boiled for 5-10 minutes and then scrubbed under running water before being returned to a clean pot to begin making broth. Both of these steps help to clean the bones of “impurities”. They aren’t necessary steps but are worth experimenting with so you can see the difference they make. This method will also help the broth be more clear as well.

Pre-Roasting– Some recipes call for pre-roasting the bones in the oven. Typically bones are roasted at a temperature around 350°F/175°C for about 30 minutes or until they are deeply browned. This is done to add a richness to the taste of the broth. If you roast the bones, drain the fat from the pan before adding the bones to your cooking liquid.

 

Cooking Methods 

Pressure Cooker Method: Be sure to not overfill your pressure cooker. Aim for it being about 2/3 full. This is important so it can create enough steam to create the desired pressure. Secure the lid on the cooker then bring to a boil, turn down the heat and allow the broth to cook. The cooking time depends on the size and type of bones you’re using. For example, chicken bones are usually good in about 40 minutes but beef or pork bones can be cooked for a couple of hours.

Slow Cooker Method: Put all the ingredients in a slow cooker, cover and cook on low. Chicken bones should take 10-12 hours but beef and pork should be cooked for 24-36 hours. 

Stovetop Method – This is similar to using a slow cooker but allows a bit more flexibility in adding ingredients in stages. Vegetables and spices are typically added only after first bringing the broth to a boil and skimming off the scum that floats to the surface. This is done to help purify the broth (similar to soaking before cooking). Vegetables and spices are added afterwards just to make sure you don’t remove them in the skimming process. Vegetables can also be added for the last 2-3 hours of cooking to keep their flavors brighter.

When the broth is cooked, strain it and cool it. Skim the fat from the top and store it in the fridge or freezer ready to be used as a basis for soups and stews or just as a comforting drink. Bone broth will last for 5 days in the fridge and for several months in the freezer.

 

Cooking Steps

Besides for the cooking methods mentioned above, the basic way of preparing a nutritious and delicious bone broth is quite simple. The steps are truncated when using a slow cooker or pressure cooker because everything is typically added at one time with both of those. 

Basic Bone Broth Recipe: 

  1. Place your bones in a slow-cooker, or large saucepan on the stove, and splash with vinegar. 
  2. Fill pot with COLD Water to cover (warm water will make the broth cloudy)
  3. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that floats to the surface during this time. (If you’re using a slow-cooker: set it on “low” and let run for 10-24 hours. If you’re using a pressure cooker: set it for the appropriate amount of time)
  4. Once the broth has come to a boil and you’ve skimmed off the scum that floats to the surface, you can add the vegetables and spices and let the broth come back up to a boil
  5. Now, turn the heat down to low and let the broth simmer (covered) for 12-36 hours, depending on the types of bones you’re using.
  6. If you’re adding Chinese herbs to your broth – add these during the last 2 hours of cooking. –(You can also choose to add your vegetables at this time rather than the beginning of cooking)
  7. After cooking has finished, allow the broth to cool slightly, pour through a strainer and refrigerate immediately. (After cooling the broth, it’s easy to remove the solidified fat on top with a spoon. Some people like to leave this fat and others prefer to remove it.)
  8. The broth is now finished and can be used as directed or desired. 

 

Storage 

Bone broth will keep in the refrigerator safely for about one week. It can be frozen for a couple of months and defrosted when needed. 

  1. While hot: Skim off fat and any material from the fat floating on the top, and pour through a strainer to remove all bones. 
  2. While cool: let pot cool & then put in refrigerator overnight. Scrape solidified fat off of the top, and remove bones (gloves recommended during this process)

Drink daily as recommended

CHINESE MEDICINAL HERBS FOR YOUR BONE BROTH

Try to keep yourself focused on no more than 4-5 ingredients at a time. More is not better. Also, try to select the herbs based on the function or aspect of your health you most want to support. If you’re working with an acupuncturist, you can always ask them which herbs would be best for your needs. I’ve listed a range of dosages per herb – if you’re using only a couple of herbs, use the larger dosage and if you’re using more herbs, use the smaller amounts. 

The goal with adding Chinese herbs to your broth is to amplify it’s healing capacity and to make it delicious. Using too many herbs will turn your tasty broth into more of a medicinal tea. Please remember, more is not always better. 

Most of the herbs listed here are considered “tonics.” They all work to support the function or restore the function of our body in different ways. Some are sweet in flavor and some are bitter. Adjust what you use based on either their function or flavor profile.

 

List of Chinese Medicinal Herbs & Their Uses

1. Ren Shen, 人參, Radix ginseng – White or Red – ginseng is one of the strongest (and most expensive) tonic herbs in Chinese medicine. It’s often added to chicken soup in Korea in a dish known as sam gye tang. Because of its price, Dang Shen (#2) is often used as a substitute. Both forms of ginseng are strengthening of our immune system and are used to treat fatigue and burnout or used to strengthen our stamina during fall and winter or for harder periods of physical demand. Red ginseng is more warming than white ginseng due to how it’s been processed. They both come from the same plant, although Korea is famous for its red ginseng. It’s flavor is slightly bitter-sweet and it strengthens the lungs and spleen in Chinese medicine. Dosage: 6-12 grams

2. Dang Shen, 黨參, Radix codonopsisDang shen is a milder tonic than ginseng. It provides a similar type of benefit in that it strengthens our immune and digestive systems and gives us some energy when we’re feeling tired. It’s flavor is mildly sweet. In Chinese medicine it strengthens the lungs and spleen. Dosage: 15-30 grams

3. Shan Yao,山藥/淮山, Radix dioscorea – Shan yao is a type of potato that is eaten as a food and used as a medicine. It’s eaten raw when fresh in Japan and more often cooked in foods in China. It’s flavor is quite mild and it helps to strengthen our digestive system by helping repair the lining of the gut through its ability to moisten. In Chinese medicine, it strengthens the lungs, spleen, and kidneys. Dosage:20-40 grams

4. Lian Zi, 蓮子, Lotus seed – Lotus seeds are used in many Chinese soups and in some sweet drinks as well. They have a mild nutty flavor and are considered to support the strength of our digestive system (good for diarrhea or loose stools due to their ability to mildly astringe), and calm our nervous system. They are used in Chinese herbal medicine to help with anxiety and restlessness by gently nourishing our body so we feel calmer. Dosage:12-24 grams

5. Da Zao/Hong Zao, 大棗/紅棗, Jujube fruit – Da Zao are also sometimes called Chinese dates. They are a sweet fruit that is used a lot in both Chinese and Korean cooking. This is in part because they are delicious but also because they help support our digestive health. Similar to Shan Yao, they nourish the digestive system and help protect and repair the lining of the gut. Dosage: 15-30 grams

6. Gou Qi Zi, 枸杞子, Lycium fruit/Goji berries – This is another sweet fruit from China that is popular in both Chinese and Korean cooking.  It’s also become popular in the west as a superfood because it is rich in antioxidants and very popular for promoting longevity. In both China and Korea it’s considered a food that supports beauty. In Chinese medicine, it nourishes and enriches our blood and helps to moisten our eyes and skin. Dosage: 15-30 grams

7. Shu Di Huang,熟地黃, Radix rehmanniae – This is the steam-processed root of Rehmannia glutinosa. It has a rich and mildly sweet and almost bitter chocolate flavor and helps to gently warm our body while it nourishes us deeply. It’s a deep dark black color and enriches the yin (hormones) of the liver and kidneys in Chinese medicine. It’s often used in formulas for people dealing with deep fatigue and burn out or for anemia or blood-loss after childbirth. It’s quite rich and can be a bit difficult to digest for those with a weaker digestive system. It’s often combined with extra cooking spices to make it easier to digest. Dosage: 12-15 grams

8. Mi Zhi Huang Qi,密炙黃芪, Honey-fried Astragalus root – Huang Qi strongly supports our immune system. There has been a lot of research on its ability to do this and its considered an adaptogen in the west. In Chinese medicine the honey-fried version is better at restoring our body than the raw/unprocessed version. The unprocessed version is used mostly to help stop spontaneous sweating. Astragalus itself is sweet and frying it in honey makes it even sweeter. It makes a nice addition to a soup when you’d like a touch of sweetness and need the broth to support your energy levels or strengthen your immune system. Dosage: 15-30 grams

9. Yu Zhu, 玉竹, Soloman’s Seal rhizome – This is a mildly sweet and hydrating herb that is often used in Chinese soups. The flavor is quite mild and it supports the health of our immune system by helping to hydrate our body. Dehydration weakens the strength of our immune system. It’s also helpful for chronic coughs that tend to be dry and have phlegm that is hard to cough up. It’s commonly added to formulas in the autumn when the air begins to dry out and to help prepare our immune system for the coming colder months of winter.  Dosage:15-30 grams

10. Bai He, 百合, Lily bulbLily bulbs have a mildly sweet flavor and are used in the cooking of China, Korea, and Japan. They gently hydrate our body and are particularly helpful for calming a stressed nervous system. In Chinese medicine, they are used to calm the spirit and reduce the symptoms of anxiety.  Dosage:15-30 grams

11. Mai Men Dong, 麥門冬, Ophiopogon root – this is a very mild flavored root that helps to moisten our lungs and digestive system in Chinese medicine. It also has a mildly calming impact on our nervous system and can be used to help with the symptoms of anxiety or restlessness. It is slightly stronger or more enriching than Yu Zhu or Bai He. Dosage 10-15 grams

12. Long Yan Rou, 龍眼肉, Longan Fruit – Longan berries are sweet and delicious. The fresh fruit can be found at some Asian grocery stores. When eaten fresh they are sweet and slightly juicy. The dried version is used in Chinese medicine and for cooking. Long Yan Rou help to build blood and calm our nervous system. They are often used in Chinese medicine for anxiety and insomnia that stems from being burnt out vs overly hyper because of how they nourish the body. Dosage: 12-24 grams

13. Dang Gui, 酒炒當歸, Radix angelica sinensis – This is Chinese angelica root and is also sometimes called a woman’s ginseng because of how often it’s used in gynecology. The flavor is slightly bitter and funky so typically smaller amounts are used. Most of the time, the wine-fried version is used because it better supports the building and circulation of blood within the body. Dang Gui is an ideal addition to your broth if you’re suffering from a symptom like anemia. Dosage: 6-9 grams

14. Chuan Xiong, 酒炒川芎, Rhizoma Ligusticum chuanxiong – Similar to Dang Gui, Chuan Xiong is used a lot in women’s health. It supports the healthy circulation of blood and is used in a way that is similar to saffron (although it certainly doesn’t taste as good as saffron). The flavor is slightly bitter and funky like Dang Gui and so a smaller amount is used as compared to other tonics. Adding this to your bone broth helps to balance out the richness of the broth. It’s often added to herbal soup recipes for women to help treat symptoms of menstrual pain or irregularity. Dosage: 6-9 grams 

15. Dan Shen,丹參, Radix Salvia – Dan Shen also supports a healthy cardiovascular system. It’s most often used to reduce inflammation and support health blood lipids (cholesterol). It has a bitter flavor and so typically a smaller amount is used. It also has a slightly calming effect on the mind and is sometimes used to help address the symptoms of anxiety or insomnia with a restless mind. Dosage: 6-9 grams

16. Jiang Huang, 姜黃, Rhizoma curcumae – This is the ever popular turmeric root — part of the ginger family it is slightly spicy and aromatic. The flavor is quite mild but the color is an intense orange-yellow that will stain almost everything it touches. It’s used extensively in the cooking of India and Southeast Asia but less so in Chinese cooking. It is used extensively in Chinese medicine though and is most often used to reduce pain and inflammation as has been verified by the massive amount of research done on it in recent years. Both the fresh and dried roots can be used in cooking. Dosage: fresh12-15g, dried6-9g

17. Chen Pi, 陳皮, Dried Citrus peel – Chen Pi is the dried peel of a mandarin orange. It’s used extensively in Chinese cooking to flavor food and support digestive health. It helps to regulate our digestive function, reduce bloating, calm acid reflux, and promote peristalsis. In Chinese medicine it’s also used to help break up mucous or phlegm. Being the dried peel of an orange, it has a strong aroma and a slightly bitter flavor. It’s impact is strongest when we add it in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. This is done with herbal medicine but not as often with home cooking. Dosage: 6-9 grams

18. Cao Guo,草果, Black cardamom – Cao Guo is part of the cardamom family and is used quite a lot in the soups of Szechuan and Henan provinces of China. It has an aromatic and almost smoky scent to it and is mostly used to help rich foods be more easily digested (in addition to being used for flavoring). Not much is needed because the aroma is quite strong. It can be a helpful addition for people who worry about digesting the richness of a bone broth. Dosage: 1-2 pods

19. Rou Gui, 肉桂, Cinnamon bark – Cinnamon bark is used both for flavoring and to deeply warm the body during colder months. It also warms our digestive system to help us better extract nutrition from our food.  It’s used quite a bit in Indian chai tea to balance out the richness of the milk tea and make it more easily digestible. Cinnamon has a strong flavor so we don’t typically add much. Similar to Chen Pi, it’s most effective when added during the last 10-20 minutes of cooking. Dosage: 3-6 grams

20. Gan Jiang,乾姜, Dried Ginger – Gan Jiang is the dried version of ginger root. Having been dried out, it’s slightly less aromatic than fresh ginger but more deeply warming to our body. It strongly supports the function of our digestive system because it contains and helps our body to produce digestive enzymes. It has been around the world for a wide range of digestive health issues, including nausea and motion sickness. It has been shown to stimulate the enzymes necessary to better digest carbohydrates as well as improving peristalsis in the gut. The fresh form of ginger (Sheng Jiang) is used more for nausea and vomiting and the dried form (Gan Jiang) is used more to strengthen the digestive system. Dosage: dried 6-9 grams, fresh 12-15g

21. Gao Liang Jiang, 高良姜, Galangal Ginger – This is the dried root of what is commonly known as Thai or Galangal ginger. Like ginger and turmeric, the fresh or dried versions can be used. Gao Liang Jiang is more deeply warming than regular ginger and ideal for someone wanting to more strongly support the function of their digestive system. Dosage: dried 6-9 grams, fresh12-15 grams

22. Da Hui Xiang, 大茴香, Star Anise – Da Hui Xiang is used a lot in the cooking of meat stews and soups throughout China and Southeast Asia. Like many other spices it supports the function of our digestive system. It has a very strong anise scent to it, but interestingly when cooked with meat brings more umami-richness to the broth vs bringing a strong scent of anise. In Chinese medicine it helps to warm the abdomen to reduce bloating and pain in the abdomen. Dosage: 2-3 stars/pieces

23. Sang Ji Sheng,桑寄生, Taxilla twigs and leaves – Sang Ji Sheng is used a lot in Chinese medicine to treat the stiffness and achiness associated with osteoarthritis. It’s especially used for low back pain and knee pain. Unlike other herbs used for this in Chinese medicine, the flavor is only slightly bitter which makes it much more amenable to use as a food. It gently nourishes the hydration of the joints to reduce pain and stiffness making it an ideal combination with bone broth. It’s also used in some post-partum recipes in Chinese medicine to help restore the health of the womb after childbirth as well as being used to calm or stabilize the womb during pregnancy and help prevent miscarriages. Dosage: 9-12 grams

24. Du Zhong, 杜仲, Eucommia bark – Du Zhong is the bark of a tree that is well known in Chinese medicine for helping with low back and knee pain. It’s also considered a longevity herb because it helps to keep us mobile and active into old age. The flavor is mild like Sang Ji Sheng and this makes it an ideal additive for foods. Similar to Sang Ji Sheng, it gently warms the body to help with the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritic changes to the joints. Du Zhong helps to mend broken bones and torn tendons and ligaments and is an ideal addition when recovering from an injury or helping address bone health issues like osteopenia or osteoporosis. Dosage: 12-15 grams

25. Ba Ji Tian, 巴戟天, Morinda Root – Ba Ji Tian is used in soups when trying treat back pain, cold-stiff joints, and to help remineralize bones (increase bone density). It’s also used in men’s health to support the production of testosterone and used to support a healthy sex drive for both men and women. In Chinese medicine, it strengthens Kidney yang. The flavor is slightly bitter so large amounts aren’t typically used in soups but it’s mild enough to be used and support the benefits of bone broths. Dosage: 9-12 grams

26. Yin Yang Huo, 淫羊藿, Epimedium leaf – Yin Yang Huo is another herb that is used to help reduce joint pain and stiffness. It’s also used to promote libido and a healthy sex drive, as can be seen in its name – Horny Goatweed. The flavor of Yin Yang Huo is fairly mild and it’s often added to recipes where there is a combination of back pain, low energy and generalized body stiffness. Dosage: 9-12 grams

BONE BROTH RECIPES WITH MEDICINAL HERBS

The following are examples of how the herbs listed above can be combined and added to your bone broth to help address particular health concerns. Remember, when you’re adding Chinese herbs to your bone broth, please add them during the last couple hours of cooking or as specified above.

Herbs to help prevent bloating and strengthen digestive function

  1. Gan Jiang 9 grams
  2. Shan Yao 20 grams
  3. Cao Guo 2-3 pods
  4. Chen Pi 12 grams
  5. Da Zao 15 grams

Herbs to help repair the lining of the gut

  1. Dang Shen 20 grams
  2. Shan Yao 30 grams
  3. Lian Zi 15 grams
  4. Sheng Jiang 15 grams
  5. Da Zao 15 grams

Herbs to help boost your energy and immune system

  1. Dang Shen 30 grams
  2. Mi Zhi Huang Qi 30 grams
  3. Yu Zhu 20 grams
  4. Rou Gui 6 grams
  5. Long Yan Rou 15 grams

Herbs to help restore your body and build blood

  1. Shu Di Huang 12 grams
  2. Jiu Chao Dang Gui 9 grams
  3. Jiu Chao Chuan Xiong 6 grams
  4. Gou Qi Zi 20 grams
  5. Chen Pi 6 grams

Herbs to ease joint pain and stiffness and promote bone health

  1. Du Zhong 20 grams
  2. Sang Ji Sheng 12 grams
  3. Rou Gui 6 grams
  4. Ba Ji Tian 9 grams
  5. Da Hui Xiang 3 pods

Herbs to support physical exercise and stamina

  1. Mi Zhi Huang Qi 30 grams
  2. Du Zhong 20 grams
  3. Bai Ji Tian 20 grams
  4. Yin Yang Huo 20 grams
  5. Rou Gui 6 grams

Enjoy the process of creating and adapting these recipes to your needs. Bone appetit!

QUESTIONS?

If you have any questions about the information in this article, or about how to tailor its wisdom to your health needs, reach out to me via email, or via messenger! 

– Justin Ehrlich L.Ac.  

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