This article originally appeared in Self Reliance Magazine.
A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with chondromalacia patellae (otherwise known as runner’s knee). This painful condition is caused by degeneration of the knee cartilage and is similar to osteoarthritis. The doctor said I was too young (at age 49) for knee replacement surgery because apparently man-made knees only last about 15 years. In looking for a lifestyle solution to this chronic health issue, I came across the book The Fourfold Path to Healing where Dr. Tom Cowan advises joint pain sufferers to add a cup of bone broth to their daily diet, among other things.
Determined not to end up in a wheelchair, and wanting to stave off knee surgery, I decided to follow his advice. In an article titled “Broth is Beautiful” by Sally Fallon Morell, founder of The Weston A. Price Foundation, I found instructions for making bone broth. Sally also explains some of the practical reasons bone broth is good therapy for aching joints. “Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily — not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.”
In the past, after cooking meat, I would throw away any leftover bones. Instant soups and bouillion cubes were staples in my pantry. I should have gotten a clue, when after a holiday meal my mother-in-law would gleefully take the turkey carcass home with her. I now realize the wisdom of making broth from scratch. Today, I much prefer stewing the chicken or turkey carcass, even beef, lamb, or fish bones, in order to make a nutrient- and mineral-rich brew. The resulting broth or stock is full of the raw materials that my body needs to repair my damaged joints. Plus, it adds variety to the days of leftovers. Now, instead of the holiday turkey leftovers ending up as open-faced turkey sandwiches ad nauseam, we add turkey vegetable soup or turkey chili to the menu.
A new book, Nourishing Broth — An Old Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World, written by Sally Fallon Morell and nutritionist Dr. Kaayla Daniel, details the long history of bone broth as a healing aid. The book mentions a number of ailments that are helped by broth. According to the book, bone broth improves digestion, strengthens bones and joints, stabilizes mood, and restores the weak and ailing to health and back to normal appetites.
Bone broth is a budget stretcher, too. The frugal cook can get beef, lamb, or pig bones from a local rancher or the butcher at a nominal cost, or even free. The useful bones from a roasted chicken can be repurposed. By making a basic broth as a base for soups, stews, gravies, and sauces, the home cook can make palatable meals out of the tougher and less expensive cuts of meat.
A successful healing broth will gel when stored in the refrigerator. It resembles a large, jiggly pot of brown Jello. A shrewd chef ensures ample gelatin by adding chicken feet and chicken heads to the stockpot. Author Fallon Morell says, “Although gelatin is not a complete protein, containing only the amino acids arginine and glycine in large amounts, it acts as a protein sparer, helping the poor stretch a few morsels of meat into a complete meal.”
Collagen constitutes 25-35% of the protein in our bodies, according to Fallon Morell and Daniel. The gelatin in broth is made up of this collagenous protein which is the result of simmering the bones, cartilage, and skin of animals. Collagen is a vital component of skin, eyes, tendons, ligaments, organs, bones, and our blood vessels. And thus, it is important for human health.
Incorporating broth into your diet makes practical the axiom, “Waste Not, Want Not.” Ingredients for a good bone broth also include flavorful vegetables. These days, I not only save the bones, but also wilted vegetables to add to a stock pot.
The simmering stock pot typically contains bones with whatever meat and skin is hanging on them. Roasting the bones first will give a deep rich golden brown color to your broth. Next, you’ll throw in large chunks of onions (include skins, also to enrich the color), carrots, celery, a bunch of thyme, water, and vinegar. Other greens like chard, kale, and seaweed can also be thrown in to boost nutrition. If you don’t have yellow onions, any allium will do! I often use leeks or scallions. Chicken or pig feet can be added for extra gelatin. Here is a pared down, foolproof recipe for the beginning bone broth maker to try.
Simple slow cooker stock (Nourishing Broth, page 155)
This stock is as simple as can be to make and reliably turns out well. The onion floats to the top and caramelizes with the long cooking, adding delicious flavor. You should use enough bones to completely fill the slow cooker. Makes about 2 quarts.
a bunch of chicken bones, about 6 cups
2 chicken feet or 1 piece split pig’s foot
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. vinegar
cold filtered water
Place the chicken bones in a large stock pot. Add the feet and onion to the pot, then add the vinegar and enough cold filtered water to cover the bones. Let stand for 30 to 60 minutes. Cover and cook on low for 6-12 hours, checking occasionally to ensure that the bones remain covered with water and adding more water if needed.
Remove the bones with tongs and a slotted spoon. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into two-quart Pyrex measuring containers or a large heatproof bowl. If not using the broth right away, cool to room temperature, then refrigerate uncovered for several hours, until the fat rises to the top and congeals. If desired, skim off this fat (you can use it in your cooking), transfer the stock to containers, and cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for many months.
Curry soup (Adapted from Nourishing Broth, page 209)
4 cups chopped chicken meat (2 breasts, 2 leg quarters)
¼ cup coconut oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. peeled and grated fresh ginger
5 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tsp. ground coriander
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. ground allspice
3 quarts homemade chicken or turkey stock
1 medium butternut squash, baked with seeds removed and flesh scooped out
2 bunches beet greens, stem removed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
Poach chicken breasts and leg quarters in pan large enough to cover them with water for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from hot water and set aside. Once cooled, remove the skin and discard. Remove the meat from the bones and chop into ½-inch pieces. Chill until ready to use.
Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and ginger and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and allspice and saute for one minute. Add the stock and butternut squash, increase the heat to high, bring to a boil, and blend well with a whisk or handheld blender. Add the greens, return to a simmer, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the beet greens are thoroughly cooked. Add the chicken and cook to heat it through. Season with salt, ladle into bowls, and serve.
Spaghetti squash with chunky tomato sauce (Adapted from Nourishing Traditions, page 154)
1 organic spaghetti squash, baked
For tomato sauce:
6 cups chopped tomatoes including liquid (fresh or canned)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, minced
2 celery stocks, chopped
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ orange or green pepper, chopped fine
½ jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
1 cooked sausage, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 strips seaweed (optional)
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 cup homemade turkey, beef, or chicken stock
To make chunky tomato sauce:
Add all of the above ingredients to a crockpot and cook on low setting all day. Before serving, remove bay leaf and seaweed strips and discard them.
To cook spaghetti squash:
One hour before dinner is to be served, pierce squash with a knife all over to allow steam to vent. Place on a baking pan and bake spaghetti squash in 350° F oven for one hour. When done, squash will be very hot, so handle with care. Move to cutting board. Hold the squash with an oven mitt and slice in half, lengthwise. Allow to cool down a bit, then scrape out the seeds and stringy pulp in the center of each side and discard. Shred the flesh of the squash into “spaghetti” and put a cup or so on dinner plate, serve with generous helping of the tomato sauce, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, as you like.
In this recipe, the soup makes its own broth.
1 ham hock (I used a smoked ham hock for more flavor)
3 quarts cold, filtered water
4 cups green split peas, soaked overnight in water and ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 onions, peeled and diced
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the ham hock in a large saucepan and add cold filtered water to cover. Place over medium heat, uncovered, bring to a bare simmer, and carefully spoon off any scum that rises to the top. Add the split peas, carrots, and onions. Lower the heat to low and cook at a bare simmer with the lid off or slightly askew for about six hours, until the meat comes off the bone easily, adding more water if needed.
Remove the ham hock from the soup and strip the meat from it, making sure to remove the layer of fat from the underside of the skin. Cut the meat and fat into bite-size pieces and place them back in the pan (at this point add the extra chopped ham, if desired). Discard the bone and removed fat. If soup is too thick, thin with some water. Season with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls, and serve.
There are a few other ways you can add bone broth to your diet and improve your health. Instead of a cup of tea, enjoy a hot cup of steaming broth, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (optional) to taste. Another idea is to use broth and berries to make a flavorful sauce. Add a half pint of blackberries to two cups of broth and simmer until volume of liquid is reduced by half and berries are broken down to a pulp. This is called a ‘reduction sauce’ and it is excellent served as a sauce over a meat dish.
It has been six years since I have embarked upon this approach to restoring my joint health. The severe knee pain is gone and I can easily live with the occasional soreness and stiffness. What’s more, this classical cooking method enchants my husband and guests with tantalizing aromas and tastes. Whether or not you have a health reason to add bone broth to your routine, this easy dietary change will renew your interest in both cooking and eating. And could easily make you the most popular cook in your circle of friends!