Today we are sharing an interview with Sheerlie, founder of Belly of the Sun, a line of handcrafted ghee offerings infused with herbs and medicinal mushrooms. Honoring extra clarified butter as an exceptionally pure and bioavailable carrier oil for potent and versatile formulations, Sheerlie shares our belief that food is medicine and that our herbal allies can be easily and seamlessly integrated into our kitchen creations for an enhanced sense of vitality.
R+B: Hi Sheerlie! I am so excited to talk alchemy with you because ghee is one of my preferred fats to incorporate in my own kitchen and I think a lot of people will get some ideas about how to bring more herbal support into their daily rituals. What inspired you to create a line of botanical ghee?
SR: Thank you, Alyssa! You’ve been a huge inspiration to me for many years! Well, I’ve been moving through my personal healing journey for over a decade and have really found that part of truly nourishing myself requires ease. It was very exciting at first to have a million supplements and products and recipes to try out, and I think that helped me feel like I was being proactive… but over time, it just wasn’t sustainable for me. A lot of trial and error also helped me discern what was actually a good fit for me, and that fluctuates… but both food and herbs have really made the biggest and most consistent difference for me. I cook almost all of the food I eat at home and so I just really appreciate the simplicity of grabbing a fat to cook with that has its own immense healing benefits, while also delivering some medicine – and flavor—from whatever it’s infused with. I know you’re a fan of stacking functions!
R+B: Absolutely! The whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts, and this is a pretty foundational concept when it comes to all herbal formulations in TCM, but especially as related to tonic herbs. You also make a variety of sweet ghee blends, some of which include Root + Bones products as ingredients. Can you tell us a little bit about those and how to use them?
SR: We both are pretty extra with our morning coffee, and I think both of our lines really encourage ritualizing that which we already do. So, the sweet ghee blends are a wonderful way to “bulletproof” our coffee, elevating it into a creamy and frothy latte kind of treat, while also offering some protection to the gut and facilitating a more balanced delivery of caffeine. Ghee is renowned for making whatever it’s paired with more bioavailable, as it crosses the lipid membranes of our cells and can help drive nutrients deeper into our bodies. But still, a teaspoon of one of my herbal ghee blends won’t be as potent as a teaspoon of your pure extract powders, for example.
It’s really important to me that people can feel the effect of my creations, which is precisely why I work with your products in three of my blends: He Shou Wu in the Inner Beauty blend, Lion’s Mane in the postpartum blend, and your 5th Kingdom mushroom blend in my Dope + Shroomy Cocoa ghee. Your products are so potent that in most cases the serving size is just ¼ or ½ of a teaspoon, so a little goes a lot farther than it would with just powdered herbs and especially farther than just powdered mushrooms, which often contain a lot of fillers from the substrate they’re grown on, or don’t even contain the fruiting bodies – which I don’t need to tell you is where the medicine is concentrated. I appreciate so much that people like you have put in the good work of raising awareness about the huge difference that proper extraction makes, and I know my customer base appreciates seeing those extracts on my ingredient labels. We have more than enough fillers and fluff in this world!
R+B: Sing it, sister! Your rainbow-colored assortment of blends includes a huge variety of herbs and mushrooms, from shiitake to stinging nettle and lavender to vanilla. Tell us about how you infuse these herbs into your blends.
SR: I try to honor the best extraction method for each ingredient, which allows for a good amount of my own in-house extractions. Shiitake is the only mushroom I extract myself, because it’s a soft, edible mushroom whose power is largely in its fat-soluble compounds and it isn’t fortified by chitin, as many other medicinal mushrooms are. Chitin is a substance that also forms lobster shells and contributes to the tough exterior of many mushrooms, but we humans can’t digest this well… if we do ingest it, it will simply exit our systems with the medicinal compounds still intact – again highlighting the importance of proper extraction. But shiitake does really well extracted into a fat over a flame!
A lot of the other herbs I work with, like stinging nettle and skullcap, for example, I grind myself on production day and allow to warm into already-strained, fresh ghee over the smallest amount of heat for many hours. Some of my ingredients, like orange peel and clove can actually be sort of decocted during the clarification process from butter to ghee, as they can handle more heat, but I would recommend this only for these types of hardy ingredients. Don’t put rose petals into the pot when you’re making ghee… they will burn! Powdered ingredients like cinnamon and vanilla bean are whipped into cooled down ghee when I add the honey.
R+B: Thank you for sharing! It’s so fascinating to get a peek into your behind-the-scenes. Can you share any tips or tricks for making herbal ghee?
SR: Sure! One of the best tips is to use a very thick-bottomed pot, because you’re going to want to have it on the stovetop for a lot longer than you might think! To get the richest flavor and make sure that all of the moisture evaporates so that it’s truly shelf-stable, you’re going to want to seriously caramelize those milk solids almost to the point that they look burnt, which helps signal that the ghee is ready. This also helps ensure that all of the milk solids are removed. I do about 10-12 pounds of butter per pretty large pot, and it takes around 3 to 4 hours on a medium flame, sometimes longer! I think this can really vary from commercial to home kitchens, too, so you’ll want to keep an eye on things and monitor whether the flame needs to be reduced or increased as the butter rises and foams before stabilizing. That reminds me: make sure you leave plenty of room in your pot above the butter, so depending on the quantity you’re making, the taller the pot – the better!
If you’re using rootsy herbs, you can add them during the clarification process for a potent extraction, but otherwise I would recommend to just clarify the butter first. After straining the ghee, you can grind up some leafy herbs and flowers into a fresh pot like I do, and then do a very, very gentle stovetop infusion for a few hours. I literally just leave the pilot flame on, and stir a lot for a few hours. Then restrain the ghee and pour into your jar! Or it’s also fun, and maybe a bit easier, to pour your fresh, plain ghee into a bowl and let it cool until it just barely starts solidifying in portions, and then add things like honey or maple to taste, your favorite Root + Bones powders, cacao powder, any other spices you like and use a whisk or immersion blender to integrate everything well ‘til its thick but still pourable. Beyond that, be really careful to work with completely dry herbs and to make sure that all of the tools you work with are also completely dry to preserve the integrity of your creations!
R+B: Those are some amazing pointers! Thank you for sharing that with our community. And if people aren’t up for DIYing all of that, they can find your website here.