Bone Broth Season

It’s the time of year to start thinking about bone broth. Incorporating bone broth into your diet year round is a great health practice to develop, but since new routines are not always easy to maintain long term, it’s a good idea to set up triggers to remind yourself to try that routine again.  When autumn and winter hit and a warm beverage starts to sound better and better, whether you’re sitting inside, cozy with a fire and a book, or on the way to work with a thermos—this is a good time to remind yourself to drink delicious, warming, nutritious bone broth.

Importance in Lyme disease

There’s a stage of recovery from Lyme disease where it is important to replace the collagen damaged by the Borrelia spirochete.

There is a hypothesis that the symptoms of Lyme disease arise in whatever and only the tissues where the spirochete has damaged a significant amount of that organ’s connective tissue, i.e. joint problems when the joint cartilage has been damaged, heart problems when connective tissue of the heart has been affected. I think that's probably simplistic and incomplete, but clinically, there is some truth to it as well. Repairing the collagenous structures makes a big difference in removing symptoms and in ultimate physical recovery from the disease.

Maybe in theory this could be done through a balanced diet without specifically supplementing collagen, but I haven’t seen that happen. As is the case with most other aspects of complex chronic disease, whether Lyme is a component of it or not, by the time a person's system has gone through so much breakdown that they are that severely ill, it's going to take some outside intervention that's above and beyond normal dietary measures, etc. to get the body functioning well on its own again. So at some point, at a minimum and with appropriate individualized other treatments, either powdered collagen, that is ethically sourced from free ranging grass fed cattle, like this one, or consuming a lot of bone broth becomes important. Bone broth has the benefit of being delicious and having a number of other components (amino acids and minerals), aside from collagen that make it healing for the ill and a healthy habit for those who want to stay well.

How to:

Basic formula

Put the bones and any vegetables and spices you're using into a large pot, and cover/fill the pot with water, leaving enough room to be able to boil without overflowing. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, for however many hours you've selected. Remove from heat, let cool enough to handle it safely, and strain. Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for 3 months.

Details and modifications

1. Quality matters. The bones you use need to be from the healthiest sources you have access to. This means 100% grass fed, pasture raised cattle and sheep, pasture raised chickens, and wild caught fish. If you don't live in an area with a good organic grocer like Washington's PCC, local butchers are usually a good resource. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Even if the company does not already provide what you want, 1) they are likely know the farmers and ranchers selling in the area and know someone who does have what you want and 2) the fact that you're asking makes them aware that there is a market for a better sourced product.
If you choose to use vegetables in your stock, they must be organic.

2. Choosing a cooking time. There are reasons to cook both long (18-24+ hours) and short (about 2 hours). Long: more minerals and amino acids, but less collagen. There's also a greater risk for sensitive individuals to react negatively to the extra amino acids. Short: less of the above listed nutrients, but more collagen for rebuilding the connective tissue. It's better tolerated by people with reactions to MSG or histaminic foods. If you're very sensitive, start low. If you're pretty healthy, consider alternating between long and short cooking times so you get the benefits of both.

3. You can make it as simple or not as you want. Outside of bones, the detailed additives of different vegetables and spices that you see in recipes are more about flavor than anything else. Of course, there is a benefit to those things, but if our goal is increased intake of collagen and the minerals and amino acids need to build it, we don't really need the vegetable component of a good broth. At the most basic, all you need is bones and water, so it's fine to omit any vegetables that you don't have or that you know you don't tolerate (like onions and garlic for those on a FODMAPS diet).

Optional easy steps:
- Add a few tablespoons of any vinegar (apple cider is a good choice) to the water to help draw nutrients out of the bones.
- Save and use vegetable scraps from the kitchen: carrot peels, parsley stems, mushroom stems, ends of vegetables, etc. Keep this for a week or so in the fridge before making broth and toss it all in with the bones. Broccoli family plants (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, collards, etc.) may add an unpleasant sulfury taste. Beets can make the whole thing pink.
- If you forgot or didn't care to save scraps, you can roughly chop a few carrots, some celery stalks and a whole onion, including the papery exterior, into large pieces and use those. These three vegetables are the basic standard flavoring formula (a mirepoix) underlying many traditional European soups, sauces, etc.
- Basic spices for extra flavor: 1-2 bay leaves, 10 or so peppercorns, and/or a few cloves of garlic.
- You can skim the foam as it rises to the top or not (just a spoon works fine). The main purpose of this is to make the resulting broth less cloudy, which is more important in fancier culinary settings and less important to us.
- Season with Himalayan or sea salt to taste. The most common problem I hear is that it didn't taste good, even though the person normally likes broths and soups. This is almost always just not enough salt. If you aren't sure about how to season properly, take a small amount, a half a cup or so, aside and add salt, stir to make sure it's dissolved, and sip; add salt, stir, sip; and keep repeating until it's definitely too salty. That way, you've tasted not enough salt, just enough salt, and too much salt, so you can be more confident about seasoning to get the taste you're looking for in the future.

4. Bone choices. Aside from quality, chicken necks and feet, and cattle knuckle bones will give you more collagen, but the best bones are the ones you have access to.

Chicken/duck: backs, necks, feet, carcasses (bones of a whole bird, mostly without the meat), etc., found in the freezer department of the grocery store or requested from your butcher; whole raw chicken, including either frozen or thawed (the meat, when done cooking, can be taken off the bones and used in other meals); or even a cooked rotisserie chicken: take the meat off (use in a soup, on salad, in tacos, etc.) and use the carcass or put it in the freezer until you have a few (just one will work, but will yield a less nutritionally dense broth).
Beef: knuckle bones and feet are great because of the extra collagen, but any will do. You can remove the marrow or leave it in for extra flavor. Roasting the bones in the oven is another way to get more flavor, but otherwise isn't necessary. Feel free to try other bones like venison/deer, lamb, goat, bison, etc. if available. All the same principles apply.

5. Drink 1-4 cups per day, depending on what your doctor says. You don't have to have it in a bowl, like soup. It's good out of a mug or a thermos, sipped like a tea or cocoa. You can also add it as the base liquid for soups, sauces, casseroles, mashed root vegetables, when you're reheating foods in a saute pan, etc. This will add more nutrition and flavor than you would have in a dish otherwise and contributes to your daily amount.

Some favorite example recipes for reference

Basic Slow Cooker Bone Broth, by Jeannie Oliver, CHHC, FNS, CPT; my favorite referral for patients who need extensive dietary and nutritional support
Chef Thomas Keller's Chicken Broth from The French Laundry cookbook
Homemade Chicken Stock by Deliciously Organic, a great resource for other recipes and food ideas.