Recently, I was invited and hired by City of Hope Cancer Hospital to attend a special event celebrating a healing garden they have designed to be part of their future new Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in Irvine, CA.
Inspired by the healing garden, and City of Hope's innovative and integrative approach to medicine, I decided to use some of the plants used in the garden, and the things I’ve learned about edible plants, in a recipe.
Given the current state of the world, life has been pretty stressful for all. So, I wanted to make something comforting, using plants that have been shown to help with reducing stress and anxiety. I decided on cake, because really, who can deny the power of dessert? I also wanted to pack the cake with unique and special flavors, just as we each are!
And of course, the cake and everything else I make is gluten-free, and many ingredients come from my urban homestead. The lemons, poppy seeds, Salvia clevelandii (Cleveland sage), Artemesia californica (California sagebrush), and eggs came from my urban homestead. I used up my own Lavandula augustfolia (English lavender) flowers in testing the recipe, so I ended up buying some extra flowers. I foraged the Sambucus nigra flowers (elderflowers) from a residential neighborhood trail, and bartered with my friend Jenna for some of her. All these plants are edible, but remember, if you're foraging them, please gather ethically and safely. Make sure the plants and flowers you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides.
Medicinal Properties of the Plants
Many plants have multiple properties. Some have been studied more extensively than others. This is only a highlight of some of the properties of the ones used in this recipe. Please do you own research into some of these plants and check with your physician about any potential interactions with any medications you might be taking.
Artemesia californica (California sagebrush) - This plant hasn't been as studied as the others. Native Americans have long used this for food and tea. Various Indigenous Americans also use the plant to treat respiratory ailments, and use it as a liniment for pain.
Eschscholzia californica (California Poppy) flowers - used as aid in sleeping (insomnia), reduction of tension, aches and pain, and for calming the nerves
Lavandula augustfolia (Lavender) flowers - a gentle sedative used to help with anxiety, stress, headaches and insomnia. The flowers and leaves are also used in aromatherapy and for calming. For ingestion, please only use untreated L. augustfolia flowers.
Lemon - helps lower blood pressure, high in antioxidants and vitamin C, digestion aid
Papaver somniferum (Poppy) seeds - seeds contain protein, high in dietary fiber, antioxidants and various nutrients. Seeds are also used for insomnia and headaches.
Salvia clevelandii (Cleveland sage) - Used as a pain reliever. Also can be used as an astrigent and for fragrance. This plant hasn't been studied as much as the others, but it is being studied by pharmacologist who is also a Chumash healer.
Sambucus nigra flowers (elderflowers) - has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral properties.
For gluten-free baking recipes, it's honestly best to weigh your ingredients rather than use volume measurements. And, always use the freshest ingredients possible. You'll get better and more consistent results. Also, please make sure you read the additional notes below first about substitutions and flours I tested. If I didn't make a note of it, I did not test it. However, if you do something different, I'd love to know if it worked for you.
If you don't have access to some of the flowers and herbs that I used, you can omit them or substitute something similar. Please only use the plant species I specified, and do not substitute another similar plant species, unless you're absolutely sure that your sub is edible. It'll completely change the flavor, but I think if you use a few culinary-grade rose petals instead of A. californica and S. clevelandii, it will still work well with the recipe.
8 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
150 g (¾ cup) sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon juice
1¾ cups gluten-free flour blend*
½ tsp xanthan gum**
1¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp dried lavender flowers
1 tbsp fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp poppy seeds
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup lemon juice
6 leaves from Salvia clevelandii, plus some flowers
Leaves from 8” piece of Artemesia californica
Approx 1 tbsp fresh or dried Elderflowers
Optional: Petals from 1-2 Eschscholzia californica flowers
* I tested the recipe using Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour and Arrowhead Mills Gluten-Free Organic All Purpose Flour. Both contain xanthan gum, so if you use them, you should omit the xanthan gum in this recipe. While both flours yield good results, I got the best results when I used my own blend, which is as follows:
70 g (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) white rice flour
60 g (1/2 cup) gluten-free oat flour
84 g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) tapioca starch
25 g (1/4 cup) almond flour
** If your packaged all-purpose gluten-free flour contains xanthan gum, then omit the xanthan gum in this recipe.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9x5 loaf pan.
Cream butter and sugar together with mixer on medium speed until smooth, and there are no more lumps.
Add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, allowing each to mix in a bit before adding the next egg. Mix until incorporated.
Turn off mixer. Add flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum** and salt. Mix on the lowest setting. Stop once to scrape the bowl and then add lemon zest. Mix on low until uniform.
Stop mixer and fold in lavender flowers gently by hand with a spatula.
Pour into the greased pan. Bake for about 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Remove from oven and let cake cool.
Prepare the syrup while the cake cools. In a small saucepan, bring all but the flowers of the syrup ingredients to boil. Turn burner to low and simmer for about 3 more minutes. Strain out the leaves.
Pour strained liquid back into saucepan, add elderflowers and poppy petals and let liquid come back to a quick boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
Once cake has cooled, remove cake from loaf pan and garnish with a few flavorful S. clevelandii flowers. Serve with syrup. The case is best when slightly warm and with a nice green or herbal tea.