Ritual and connection are important nourishment for the human spirit. I was torn on which title to choose for this blog post. I am not trained in the ceremonial use of cacao. When I use this plant in a sacred way, I am doing so in the spirit of a Japanese tea ceremony. Cacao is special gift from our mother earth. There are some things to keep in mind when drinking it.
Cacao is considered by many to be plant spirit medicine. It must be treated with respect. Please consider your own spiritual/cultural traditions when using and handling this herb. You might say prayers, utilize special utensils, or engage in other practices when preparing it. I use this cacao beverage when doing self care and for connecting with my daughters. For my family it is a very private and intimate thing. I feel fortunate to have found a drink that I can consume in a ritual context, especially with my kids. Many of the obvious ones I can’t imbibe for various reasons.
I like to add small amounts of medicinal plants to my cacao formula. I chose herbs for their flavor, digestive/organ support, “spiritual” qualities, energetics (warming, sweet, and stimulating) and individual roles as powerful emotional allies. Dandelion supports the liver in its job to remove toxins. This seems like a good choice when there is a concern with heavy metal build up in the body.
Cacao is contains iron, magnesium, and antioxidants. It is thought to open the heart and promote a relaxed mood. The seed pod of this plant is processed to make what the world knows as chocolate.
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: cacao is drunk and eaten in various forms worldwide. Cacao grows as a native plant in several places in Central and South America. It has be exported and cultivated as far away as Africa. We know that cacao was consumed by certain cultural groups in the historical past but it is unclear as to exactly when and to what extent it was used in a ritual context. You can encounter modern “cacao ceremonies” while on retreat or in a spiritual context globally. We know that it was used by the Maya as money, food, and medicine. When purchasing and using it, I try to be mindful of the source and treatment of the plant. I give thanks to the people who live where it is grown and to those who harvest it. Colonialism, exploitation, conservation, and ethics need to be considered when using this plant in a sacred “space” with groups.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: avoid large amounts of cacao in the cases of heart disease/conditions, high blood pressure, pregnancy, epilepsy, or the use of anti-depressants.
HEAVY METAL WARNING: Over time as it grows and as it dries on the ground, cacao takes in lead, aluminum and cadmium. Enough that there are now warnings and concerns with its use. Please do your research and use appropriately. Once a week is probably not a concern. The Navitas brand claims to have low levels of these heavy metals. Cacao grown and processed in Africa is also testing lower in heavy metals.
Sacred Cacao Drink
2 cups of high quality unsweetened organic, fair trade, fermented (not heated) cacao powder. I choose powder over the “ceremonial grade” blocks for many reasons.
2 TBSP each of dried and finely ground-orange peel, tulsi leaf, and rose petals.
1 TBSP of dried and finely ground-fennel seeds
1/2 tsp each of powdered-star anise, nutmeg, cardamon, cinnamon
Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix very well. Store in a cool, dark place, in a very special jar.
To prepare you can use a blender, milk frother or whisk. You can also use a wooden tool such as molinillo or a bamboo matcha whisk. I add 2 level TBSP of powder to 1 cup of dandelion root infusion. Then use the whisk/frothing method of my choosing. I find that with the addition of the other herbs that I do not need to use sweetener. Milk is not traditional but it protects the stomach from any tannins in the cacao and makes it taste better to my girls.
I start my cacao ceremony by setting out a special tray, tea pot, my favorite tea cups and other utensils. I dispense and hand grind the powder to release the volatile oils and lovely scent. I want this to be a sensory experience. As I grind I recite blessings and prayers of gratitude. I heat the water and make my dandelion root infusion. I add this to a nice large bowl, with the powder and whisk using the bamboo matcha tool. I add heated milk and whisk until my beverage is quite frothy. I pour this into my teapot and serve. I often read poetry or other things to my daughters as we savor the beverage slowly and consciously.
Latin Name: Taraxacum officinaleFamily: AsterSubfamily: Cichoriodeae/Chickory
Taraxacum has yellow ray flowers that overlap all the way to the center. There is no round disk in the center like other plants in the aster family. The “petals” are straight and do not taper. It has bracts/modified leaves where the stem joins the flower instead of sepals. It has a hollow, round stem full of a white, latex like, sticky sap.There are related plants that look like dandelion (sap, yellow flowers etc.) BUT Dandelion has a reddish green , non branching stem that is 2-6 inches long (sometimes 18). The leaves do not grow off the stem, instead they grow around the base in a ring. There is one flower per stem .The leaves are very serrated like teeth , they get broader towards the top before ending in a point. Nothing about a dandelion is prickly or hairy. Single seeds look like a tiny parachute but together form a white fluffy ball.Habitat-lawns, parks, fields, waste land. Dandelion likes poor soil. Blooms and makes seeds all year round. One of the first flowering plants to appear in spring.Growing:will grown anywhere. Self seeds. No need to cultivate, it is an invasive but useful weed.Edible parts:Root, leaves, flower heads.Harvesting:Dandelion roots and leaves are most bitter in the spring, this is also when they have most medicinal qualities. Plants growing in the shade may be less bitter. Pick flowers mid morning when they are dry and have reached their biggest size. Wash well, the root may need to be scrubbed with a brush. When picking be aware of contamination from pets and pesticides/herbicides. Watch for bees, it is their favorite source of food right in the early spring.
Historically Dandelion has been used as a diuretic (water retention) and laxative (constipation). As a tonic it cleanses the blood/tissues/organs of wastes/toxins and clears heat. Dandelion is useful for skin disorders (acne, cysts, fibroids, poison ivy, rashes, eczema, abscesses etc.), hay fever, candida, allergies, varicose veins, gout, rheumatism, and weight loss. It cools heat (fever) , stimulates the immune system, and removes infection ( sinusitis, bronchitis, mastitis, hepatitis, herpes, and mono just to name a few) Internally Dandelion is best known for its action (astringent, tonic, stimulant) ) on the digestive system (gas, indigestion, appetite loss, heartburn, ulcers) the bladder ( urinary tract infection) liver (jaundice, cirrhosis) and gallbladder (gallstones) pancreas, spleen, and kidneys (kidney stones). Internally the flowers can be used for pain/anti-inflammatory (arthritis, cramps, headaches, and backache). Externally the flowers can be used for wounds and fungal infections. The sap from the stem is thought to remove warts.
Culinary uses- coffee substitute, wine, beer, syrup, jelly, baked goods, stir fry, juiced, pickles, and salad green just to name a few. Herbal products products-tea/infusion, tincture, oil/salve. The fresh leaves can be added to salads and soups or the dried to condiments to add a mineral source to the diet.
Emotional/Spiritual Use-for cleansing, rejuvenation, reflection, stress/tension, fear, or hesitation. Promotes trust, openness, balance, ease and relaxation in those who overdue it or have perfectionist tendencies.
Parts Used: leaves, flowers, root
Energetics: bitter, sweet, cold, moist
Contraindications: safe during pregnancy and nursing in small amounts. Because it is in the aster family, it may cause allergic reaction in people sensitive to those kinds of plants. The sap may cause contact dermatitis.