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3-Course Interview: Jen Stovall 

Talking with an herbalist about using spices in your food to boost health

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Jen Stovall is the co-owner of Maypop Community Herb Shop (1036 Franklin Ave., 504-304-5067;, which offers spices, teas and medicinal herbs. Stovall spoke with Gambit about teas, making "fire cider" and using spices in healthier cooking.

Why did you open Maypop?

Stovall: Before my co-owners and I opened the shop, I was selling my herbs at a bunch of markets around town. People were contacting me all the time for teas, and I was selling these teas out of my house. We tossed around what it would look like to open a place of our own and decided to open a shop between the four of us. We opened on Spring equinox 2011, so our four-year anniversary is in March. We still run the shop collectively, but now it's just two of us — myself and Rachael Reeves.

If you had to recommend teas for helping fight colds this winter, what would you suggest?

S: We make a cold season tea for if you're starting to get sick or already are sick. We also have a deep immune tonic that you cook down for three days in a Crock-Pot or on the stove. We recommend people freeze it into ice cubes and then add it to their food. If you're cooking rice, you can add it in as the base for your rice or beans. It can be a tea or a soup. It helps to ward off sicknesses.

  Chais are almost all warming spices and culinary spices, like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and ginger. Anything with warming spices is going to be a big help.

  People think of things like elderberry for keeping colds and flu at bay, but the deep immune boosters are things like mushrooms: maitake, shiitake, reishi, chaga.

  One thing to keep in mind is that all culinary spices can also be used medicinally. They are all great preservatives and digestive aids. It's important to know that spices you are already familiar with have a lot of health benefits. A lot of people grow herbs already, and having that connection to the plant is very important. I use a lot of spice in my food and make a lot of different spice blends, like pestos out of cilantro and fennel and pumpkin seeds and high-quality olive oil. I have these around a lot and that increases the amount of herbs I'm getting all the time.

Maypop recently hosted a class for making "fire cider." What is that?

S: Fire cider is the age-old tradition of taking apple cider vinegar and infusing it with a bunch of different spicy foods like onions, garlic and peppers. We also add lemon, fresh kumquats, rosemary and thyme to ours. You soak it all in the apple cider vinegar with turmeric and horseradish. You can mix it with honey, make it into a salad dressing or put it in soups. It's a little spicy and a little sour. It's great in the winter if you feel like you have a sickness coming.


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