Coffee is a great herbal medicine!


Beautiful Coffee!

Not only does it taste good, the tree is beautiful, the flowers smell wonderful and with the green leaves and red berries, coffee would make a great Christmas decoration!  

Often we think of herbal medicine as pills, potions and preparations purchased from pharmacists, naturopaths and health food shops. Yet many of these ‘medicines’ are from common plants that we can eat (see the weeds for salads article in my November news). Other ‘herbal’ preparations that most of us take in large doses every day are tea and coffee. These are prepared, like many other herbs, as decoctions and tissanes, from dried ingredients and boiling water.  

Decoction: Boiled herbal preparations using hard plant materials such as ground or powdered roots, bark and dried fruits (e.g. coffee). Plant material is boiled for 10-20 minutes in water in a pot with tight fitting lid, then strained or filtered to remove solids.  

Tissane: Commonly called teas, these are weak extracts in hot water, made by pouring boiling water over the plant parts and letting them stand for a few minutes. The tisane is then strained and served.

The two herbs used daily for these preparations are:  

Camellia sinensis, the dried leaves are used for black or green tea. Contains caffeine  (2-4gm/100ml ) and phenolic compounds that are anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It’s anti-cancer effects have also been explored  

Coffea arabica and Coffea. canephora; Coffee is made with roasted and ground fruit (beans) from these small evergreen trees. Prepared as a decoction in hot water, caffeine content varies from 50-150gm/100ml depending on the method of preparation and source of the beans.


Good and bad effects of coffee

Caffeine is an alkaloid, found in cola nuts, coffee, tea, cacao beans, mate and other plants. Caffeine-containing drinks can have adverse effects in high doses, the good news is that in moderation, they can be of great benefit.

Recent data on coffee is of particular interest, since this has an “avoid” label in many naturopathic diets. Coffee and caffeine-containing drinks are stimulating, heating drinks and certainly should be avoided in some situations. For example, people who have a Vata imbalance may find that coffee makes them nervous and agitated, while its heating properties can aggravate hot flushes in menopause and aggravate high pitta imbalance. However in many situations, especially when a Kapha imbalance leads to obesity and Syndrome X, caffeine can increase physical activity, preserve brain and nerve function, protect against Type 2 diabetes and prevent liver amage. For new evidence supporting this, see the New Research Articles pages

How many ways to enjoy your coffee?

Coffee, how do I love thee, let me count the ways! (apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43)   

Coffee Fruitcake for Christmas

Yield: Makes 2 loaves


3 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 lb dried currants (3 1/3 cups)

1 lb raisins (3 cups)

1 cup lukewarm strong coffee

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup molasses (not robust or blackstrap)


Special equipment: 2 (9- by 5- by 3-inch) loaf pans



Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 250°F. Brush loaf pans lightly with oil, then line bottom and sides with foil, pressing corners to help adhere.


Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg into a large bowl.


Toss currants and raisins with 2 tablespoons flour mixture in a bowl. Stir together coffee and baking soda in a small bowl until dissolved.


Beat together with butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add eggs, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in molasses. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and coffee mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just smooth. Fold in dried fruit mixture.


Divide batter between loaf pans and smooth tops by gently rapping bottom of each pan against counter.


Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of each cake comes out clean, 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours (cakes may sink slightly in center). Cool pans on racks 10 minutes, then loosen foil from sides of pans with knife and turn out cakes onto racks. Peel off foil and cool cakes completely, about 3 hours.


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Some Coffee methods from round the world (from Wikipedia)

• Indonesian coffee: The simplest method: finely ground round coffee placed in a cup, hot water poured in, wait for the grounds to sink (if coffee beans are not ground finely the grounds won’t sink)

• Nordic and Dutch coffee. The second most simple method: coffee grounds are boiled in water and filtered

• Turkish Greek and Arabic coffee: Here special equipment is needed. Water is added to finely ground coffee in a narrow-topped pot, brought to the boil (+/-sugar), immediately removed from the heat. Served in small cups, it is strong coffee with thick layer of grounds (mud) at the bottom.

• French Filter coffee: Another special piece of equipment , a cafetière, or French press, is used. This is a tall, narrow cylinder with a plunger that has a metal and mesh filter at the base Coffee grounds are placed in the cylinder, and boiling water is poured into it. “The coffee and hot water are left in the cylinder for a few minutes (4–7 minutes) and the plunger is pushed down, leaving the filter immediately above the grounds, allowing the coffee to be poured out while the filter retains the grounds” (Wikipedia).   

• American Drip brew coffee, made by letting hot water drip onto coffee grounds held in a coffee filter surrounded by a filter holder feeding into a coffee pot which often sits on an elelctic heating element. The process is automated in electric percolators. 

 Italian Espresso is made by forcing hot water at 91-95 °C (195-204 °F) under a pressure of between eight and fifteen bars (800–1500 kPa, 116-220 psi), through a lightly packed matrix, called a "puck," of finely ground coffee. The 30-60 cc (1-2 oz.) beverage is served in demitasse cups; sugar is often added. It is the basis for many coffee drinks. It is one of the most concentrated forms of coffee regularly consumed, with a distinctive flavor provided by crema, a layer of flavorful emulsified oils in the form of a colloidal foam floating on the surface, which is produced by the high pressure. Espresso is more viscous than other forms of brewed coffee.

• The moka pot, also known as the "Italian coffeepot" or the "caffettiera," is a three-chamber design which boils water in the lower section. The generated steam pressure, about one bar (100 kPa, 14.5 psi), forces the boiling water up through coffee grounds held in the middle section, separated by a filter mesh from the top section. The resultant coffee (almost espresso strength, but without the crema) is collected in the top section. Moka pots usually sit directly on a stovetop heater or burner. Some models have a transparent glass or plastic top.


So drink up and enjoy! Merry coffee Christmas and Happy New Year!




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