Broth stars

How often do you treat yourself to one of these?


(I'm not here to offer any opinion on the red cup controversy—I'm talking about what's inside the cup!)

If you have kids, you've likely forked over a few bucks for one of these...


I wonder if you'd be willing to spend $5 on this?

Very often we invest in that which is convenient and tastes good

How likely are we to seek out that which heals us and makes us feel good? Especially if it's inconvenient?  

Generations of people have prepared and enjoyed homemade broths, stocks, and stews. In some cultures, families rely on this relatively inexpensive source of nutrition.

Lately in news and social media, broth is trendy. It's described as a "magic elixir" and the "fountain of youth," brought to light by the Paleo and Whole 30 communities. 

My discovery of bone broth had nothing to do with being fashionable, and everything to do with healing my very sick toddler. 

Amy is well again and thriving at age four (and a half, she'd like to add). She says that sipping a cup of homemade broth makes her "belly happy."

We're still working at keeping up our broth habit as a busy family of five. Despite the recent media attention, bone broth is not yet widely available in a convenient to-go cup. It takes a little bit of effort to prepare and store the good stuff. But after watching it literally revive my child, I decided that making homemade broth a part of our routine was worth the trouble. 

We may live in an world of instant gratification, but the truth is that anything worthwhile still takes time.

Early last spring, we found ourselves stumped and a little bit frightened by our three year-old Amy's persistent stomach bug. She vomited for three days straight and could hardly keep down a sip of water. Her demeanor was sweet and agreeable, but I was increasingly worried as I watched her cherub cheeks growing pale, her little body shrinking from lack of nourishment. 

On the morning of the fourth day, still seeing no improvement, I made an appointment with our pediatrician. Unfortunately our regular doctor was away, but his retired colleague was taking appointments on his behalf. 

The substitute doctor reminded me of Mr. Rogers, very charming and kind to Amy. He didn't seem overly concerned when I described her symptoms. He said he couldn't be sure of the cause, but there was a tummy bug going around, and as long as she was urinating and accepting some fluids, she ought to bounce back in the next few days. I said I was concerned about her losing weight from all the vomiting; was there anything else we could do to help her? He readily prescribed an anti-nausea medication called Phenergan, and recommended the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) when she could tolerate solids again. I trusted his advice, and in my vulnerable state, I was ready to try anything to help my little girl feel better.

We left the doctor's office and drove straight to the pharmacy. I handed the technician the script, which he read with furrowed brows. He consulted with some colleagues and stepped away to call my doctor's office. He seemed concerned when he returned to the counter; apparently the dosage the doctor prescribed was too high for a child. I told him the doctor had mentioned that I'd have to cut the pill in half, but the technician explained that this type of capsule wasn't one that could be cut. They didn't carry the half-size pills, so I'd have to try another pharmacy. I called four other pharmacies that afternoon, with no luck.

I found it odd that the doctor would prescribe a medication that wasn't available at any local pharmacies. When we got home, I took a few minutes to research the medication. In hindsight, I ask myself: how I could possibly administer a new medication to my child without any knowledge of its mechanism or potential side effects?! 

My internet search revealed that Phenergan suppositories should not be used in children 2 years-old or younger. Side effects may include difficult or slowed breathing, drowsiness leading to coma, or death. The suppositories should be used with extreme caution in children older than 2. Finally, special care should be taken when giving this medication to children who are dehydrated or have lost a lot of fluid. 

I understand that all medicines may cause side-effects, and many people experience none at all. Still, I was alarmed that a doctor would so casually prescribe an adult dosage of a medication, trusting that I'd have the sense to cut it in half as he instructed, and failing to mention that I ought to monitor my child closely, because there was a possibility that she might stop breathing or enter a coma!

I'm still baffled at the memory of my blind trust in the doctor's orders. We behave strangely when motivated by fear. Needless to say, we decided not to fill that prescription.

Tossing and turning in bed that night, divine inspiration struck me: bone broth.

I picked up some knowledge of traditional diets while I was in college, during my time spent working with kids on the autism spectrum. Some of the moms found that their autistic children responded positively to the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). The diet is thought to improve brain and neurological function by way of healing the digestive system, and it prescribes the frequent consumption of homemade meat stocks, soups, and stews. 

I knew that broth was nutrient-dense and soothing to the intestines. Doesn't mom always fix you a bowl of chicken soup when you're feeling under the weather? There's a reason that homemade bone broth and meat stocks have been a staple in traditional kitchens for thousands of years. Unfortunately, we won't find the same healing properties in shelf-stable boxed broth, or in a can of classic chicken noodle. The good stuff comes from scratch. 

Why had this not occurred to me sooner?!

Early the next morning, I rushed to the store to gather up some meaty chicken bones and joints, bay leaves, good salt, and an onion. I brewed up a huge pot of broth and offered Amy a small mug with a straw. I still remember her sweet smile as she slurped it up.

It was the first real nutrition Amy would keep down that week, and the turning point in her recovery. She sipped broth exclusively for two days, and didn't vomit again. 

Amy told me about a dream she had during her recovery; she said in the dream, she was spreading chicken broth on her arms like sunscreen, and that the broth was keeping her safe. I know that sounds odd and kind of gross, but the truth is that the broth was literally healing her digestive tract and protecting her from further inflammation. It was keeping her safe. 

You might argue that after five days of battling a tummy bug, her body was ready to overcome the illness anyway.

I believe that bone broth is responsible for Amy's healing. 

I wish that the story ended here with rainbows and butterflies. Anyone who has parented a toddler knows that the strong will of little people can easily overthrow the best of intentions. 

After about a week, Amy was "done" with broth, scrambled eggs, and yogurt—we loosely followed the GAPS introduction diet as we eased her back into solid foods. Amy wanted (demanded) to return to her familiar menu of crackers, cheese, raisins, noodles, and juice.

I was hesitant to compromise all of the progress she had made, by re-introducing (what I had recently learned were) inflammatory foods. 

So, like any logical parents would do, we resorted to bribery. 

Amy earned a gold star for each cup of broth she drank, which we offered before every meal or snack. If she earned enough stars, the "prize" was an activity or outing of her choice. Some of our suggestions included riding the BART train to San Francisco, visiting the "zip line park" (awesome community park in a neighboring town), or a special trip to Build-A-Bear.

The bribery mostly distracted Amy from noticing that her beloved Goldfish crackers and breakfast cereals had gone missing. We used this healing period as a time to explore real, whole foods for the entire family. Broth was our staple before or during meals, and we focused on protein, fruits, vegetables, whole-milk dairy, and nuts, steering clear of most processed carbs. 

Our broth star chart motivated all of us to enjoy the benefits of broth. We Martins are a competitive breed, so naturally we raced to earn the most gold stars. Aside from discovering our love for the simple warmth of every mug, my husband and I noticed that as the stars stacked up, the real "prize" was that our bodies just felt better. 

Since Amy's recovery, we've had our ups and downs. During the warm summer months, packed with traveling and pool days, our demand for broth wasn't great. But it's certainly the first remedy we turn to when someone starts sniffling or complaining of a belly ache.

We still keep a broth star chart, and it has expanded to include our kitties, Steven and Stella (who I'm clearly under-serving, see below).

I've shared Amy's story here and there, and have learned of folks who swear by bone broth to alleviate arthritis, allergies, psoriasis, and IBS, among other ailments. But many people I talk to feel they lack the time and/or kitchen prowess to prepare broth for themselves. Friends have begged "Will you make it for me!?" or asked "Where can I buy it ready-made?"

As a mom raising three kids (and one more on the way), I echo their cries for convenience! I do prefer to make it myself—it's actually very simple—but I imagine not everyone will.

Where can we find real bone broth, either in a pinch or on the regular?

I found a few options within reach of the Tri-Valley where we raise our growing family:

1. Three Stone Hearth is a community-supported kitchen in Berkeley, CA that offers a weekly menu of nutrient-dense, traditional foods. They sell a variety of bone broths by the quart.

2. If I call ahead to pre-order, our local Whole Foods Market will prepare quarts of broth for pick up.

3. A quick internet search reveals a variety of companies offering frozen bone broth available for mail-order. 

4. City dwellers can visit Belcampo Meat Co. in San Francisco, CA. Their SF and Palo Alto locations serve up hot broth in to-go cups and also by the quart. 

I share our story with the hope that more people might experience the transformative power of this liquid gold—the well-being, the warmth, the glow. Come over to my house and we'll pour you a cup. You can have a gold star, too!

As our family continues on this journey, we hope to inspire more local vendors to offer affordable and convenient access to fresh, high-quality bone broth.

In a society grasping for the latest superfood or prescription medication in pursuit of wellness, I say let's return to our our roots. "Let food be thy medicine."—Hippocrates

Further Reading

Nourishing Broth by Sally Fallon Morrell (2014)

"Broth is Beautiful" by Sally Fallon Morrell (2001)

Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride (2010)