These black sesame honey ball treats are food for all of the Five Element Organs in Chinese Medicine: Kidneys, Liver, Heart, Lung and Spleen.
They pack a lot of energy into a tiny package, and I really like them when I’m sitting in class or at an all day conference, to help keep my mental and physical energy up and moving despite being stationary for long periods of time.
***Featured in the July-September 2019 Nutritional Therapy Association Newsletter “What we’re drooling over” section***
- 3 cups black sesame seeds*
- 1/3 cup honey-preserved rose petals** or plain honey
- 3/4 cup+ maple syrup or local honey
- 3TB dried orange peel pieces (if pieces are large, use 4 slices)
- 2TB cardamom seeds/pods
- 1/2tsp cinnamon (freshly ground)
- 2 pinches salt
- 2tsp vanilla extract
- 1TB cocoa powder***
- 3 cups dried rose petals (or 3/4 cup rose petal powder)
- 1/2 cup almond flour (optional, for dusting)
Optional additional ingredients to be blended in the food processor with the other herbs/spices:
- shilajit (1/16tsp)
- fresh grated ginger (1 1/2″ piece)
- chopped sour cherries (3/4 cup)
- Toast the black sesame seeds until they are heated through, become fragrant and begin to pop. Set aside to cool in a bowl.
- Once cooled, place in a food processor with salt and honey-preserved rose petals
- Powder the cardamom seeds, orange peels and the rose petals in a grinder or mortar and pestle, mix with cinnamon (and cocoa, if using). Taste for balance – it should please your palate, and bring a smile associated with a sigh to your being. If it does not, grind more cardamom and orange peel then add to the blend and re-taste.
- Reserve 2TB+ of the powdered cardamon, orange, rose blend for dusting later.
- Process the seeds, honey preserved rose petals, vanilla extract, powdered cardamom, roses and orange peels until clumps form and the rose petals are no longer visible.
- If you are using honey:
- If you have runny honey: pour the honey into the sauté pan used for the sesame seeds. Heat through until just bubbling around the edges. Do not let the honey turn a darker color. If you have a thicker honey, skip this step and use unheated honey. (The heated honey ensures that the excess moisture is evaporated out, increases the tonification properties of the other herbs in this recipe, and gives the balls a firmer texture than unheated honey. If you wish, you may use unheated honey and adjust the ratio of honey to dry ingredients as necessary(1).)
- If you are using maple syrup:
- Place in a small pot, and simmer until the maple syrup is very thick (about 10 minutes), be careful not to let it boil over. Turn off, and let cool for about 10 minutes.
- Once the honey/syrup is heated through, pour it into the food processor with the blended sesame seeds and half of the powdered herbs – if your food processor is powerful and large enough (if it is not, mix by hand). Process until the mixture forms one solid mass, as if you were making dough.
- Taste and add more spices as needed.
- Roll dough into 3/4″ balls. (Yield will be around 50+ balls.)
- Combine remaining spice blend/rose petals with the almond flour, and coat the balls.
- Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to set.
- Store in a covered container with rose petals, whole cardamom pods and dried orange peel slices in the refrigerator or freezer. Use within 2 weeks in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.
About the Main Ingredients:
Black sesame is regarded as great food to keep hair healthy and dark, which is no wonder since this tiny seed is filled with a plethora of nutrients. It tonifies the Kidneys and Liver in Chinese Medicine (CM), helping to build Blood and Jing, and lubricates dryness in the intestines.
Honey is utilized as a remedy for dryness (throat, mouth, bowels), and is considered a panacea by many. It tonifies the digestive system (Spleen/Stomach in CM) and has been used for millenia as a binder for powdered medicines in both Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. It’s use here is from a Chinese Medicine standpoint, through which heating honey increases the tonification properties of the herbs it is combined with.
Maple syrup is a neutral to warming sweetener derived from the sap that flows from maple trees in early spring. “Sugaring” is the process that harvests then cooks down this sap, condensing the energy stored within the trees all winter long and provides nourishment to the tree’s new growth. As such, this sweet treat targets the Spleen and Stomach organs. Since this is essentially the stored winter energy that is now nourishing the spring growth, I’d wager that the Kidneys and Liver are also involved. Syrup has an upward energy, which serves to harmonize the movement between the Stomach and Spleen organs. Maple syrup is high in manganese, riboflavin (vitamin B3) and has other minerals such as zinc, calcium, potassium and magnesium – a claim that no other (common) sweetener can make. Be careful though, due to its intensely sweet flavor, Dampness (excess weight) can easily form if used in more than sparing quantities.
Rose has often been used to regulate the menses, however it is a fantastic Liver Qi and Blood regulator. This means that it helps with the huffing and puffing, sighing and frustration that often comes with being unable to express oneself creatively. Chinese medicine uses the buds that are tightly closed or partially open, and the roses that I harvested were a mix of tightly closed, partially open, and fully open. Ayurveda uses rose to balance the heart, decrease anger, sadness and frustration, increase digestive fire (agni), and rose is considered beneficial for all doshas.
Orange Peels (also known as Chen Pi) are simply dried and aged tangerine peels. Every citrus season I happily purchase a bunch of organic tangerines, grapefruits and oranges and save the peels in a tin. The older peels (five years) are nicely darkened, while the peels that are younger (one to two years) have maintained their brightness. Chinese Medicine values the older peels and considers the medicinal value to increase with age. Orange peels help to dry the heavy feeling one gets from sitting for too long, and it helps to correct digestive imbalances.
Salt is the taste associated with the Kidneys in CM, and “directs” the herbs to the Kidneys so that the Kidneys can then best utilize all that the herbs have to offer. Too much salt can damage the kidneys.
Cardamom is one of my favorite spices of all time. It is spicy, it is sweet, it is warming, it is fragrant and it tonifies and strengthens digestion.
Cinnamon is spicy, hot, and penetrates the Heart, Liver, Kidney and Spleen channels. This translates to our inner fire and spark, our drive and ambition, wisdom and intention. It is in this recipe to provide a contrast to the sweetness that is prevalent in all of the other herbs. Cinnamon has been used in recent years to stabilize blood sugar, I’m not convinced there is enough in this recipe to provide for such an effect to take place.
Cocoa is rich, sweet, warming and moves its energy into the Kidney and Spleen. Too much is always too much, but this small amount is enough to wake up the senses and get your blood and energy moving again
*You may soak the seeds in water for an hour (as is typically done for sesame seeds in Tamil Nadu, India), or up to 8 hours (overnight). Soaking helps to neutralize the phytic acid (which has been shown to inhibit nutrient absorption).
Once soaked, strain, rinse, strain again, then toast the seeds while still damp. Then set aside to cool completely before grinding, per the instructions.
**I made a rose petal honey this past June, after straining I did not want to throw out the honey-preserved rose petals. Instead, I pureed the honeyed petals to use in this recipe. The remaining strained honey may be used for these treats, or stored for later use in teas, or on various foods and treats. With this particular batch of treats, I used spring honey so as to not overwhelm the senses with the intensity of the roses.
***If you are sensitive to chocolate (or to small amounts of caffeine/theobromine), feel free to leave the cocoa out of this recipe. It will be just as delicious!
(1) In Ayurvedic medicine, heating honey creates Ama (or toxicity), which is a matter that I am still investigating as I have not found sufficient reasoning behind this statement to take it at face value considering that Ama is a result of impaired digestion. Raw honey does have numerous benefits, but in this recipe and in these amounts, heating the honey slightly will not create an Ama-promoting condition so long as there is not already a pre-existing condition involving Ama. In Chinese medicine, heating honey and mixing with herbs increases the tonification properties of those herbs/foods, and is used judiciously. As I am a Chinese Medicine practitioner, I primarily operate from this perspective.
My experience with this recipe is that if you want this treat to be lighter, you should not heat the honey. If you want something more deeply tonifying/building, heat the honey.
Either way, if you do not want to heat the honey because it conflicts with what you have learned – don’t heat it, use a thicker honey instead or maple syrup.