I remember the distinctly rich scent of leftover chicken carcasses simmering on the stovetop from my childhood. Pungent bay, thyme and garlic flooded the house as my mom whipped up quick broths from kitchen scraps every time I felt a cold or flu coming on (which was often). I lived off of these broths throughout the winter months (alongside cans of Campbell's noodle soups) and realized a couple of decades later that my mom had been conjuring some ancient ancestral wisdom to nourish my immune system.
Cultures across the planet have been using animal and vegetable scraps to make healing broths for thousands of years. These broths form the base of soups and stews, or can be sipped on their own as calming protein-rich beverages. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, calls bone broth an "old-fashioned remedy for the modern world."
But what exactly is bone broth?
Bone broth is a long-simmered broth made from animal bones (preferably the cartilaginous ones like feet, backs, necks, and other joints). These are the cuts that make broths more gelatinous. Bone broth is truly a superfood - it can help bring our bodies back into balance, helping with immunity, hydration, gut health and inflammation.
What are the benefits of consuming bone broth?
Protein, Skin & Muscle
One of the most important benefits of consuming bone broth is its rich amino acid content. Amino acids are the tiny building blocks of protein, which is the main building block of our bodies. The primary component of bone broth is collagen, which comprises around 30% of the protein in our bodies and is mostly found in connective tissue like skin, joints, cartilage, bone, etc. So increasing collagen intake helps keep our joints, bones and skin healthy as we age.
The lining of our intestines should form a tightly-sealed barrier of epithelial cells between the contents of the gut and our bloodstream. For those who experience intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, the spaces between epithelial cells become enlarged, allowed dietary proteins and microbes to escape into the bloodstream. This causes a system-wide inflammatory immune response. Because of its amino acid profile, bone broth can help seal the gut lining in cases of leaky gut. Glutamine and proline work to restore epithelial cell function and glycine fights inflammation and gastric ulcers by stimulating stomach acid production, which is extremely important for the digestion process.
And because 70% of our immune system is located in the gut, digestive health is crucial for immune health.
Chicken broth, in particular, has been found in some studies to inhibit the spread of our innate immune cells, which reduces oxidative stress in our bodies. It also contains a compound called chondroitin sulfate, which helps regulate the immune system.
Sleep, Mood & Nervous System
Glycine, one of the main amino acids in most bone broths, has a huge impact on nervous system health. It is known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it has a calming effect throughout the body, helping with sleep quality, anxiety and mood. Drinking bone broth before bed has been shown to be beneficial for anyone who has trouble falling or staying asleep at night.
Bone broth is packed with incredible minerals like potassium and sodium that help us stay hydrated by helping our bodies more efficiently absorb water. And unlike the minerals contained in grains and legumes, the minerals in bone broth are extremely absorbable by our bodies.
Environmental & Ethical Impacts
One of the foundations of my nutrition practice is incorporating whole, nutrient-dense foods into our diets. This may come as a surprise, but ultimately, this means consuming as many parts of the animals that we eat as possible. Using the bones (in addition to muscle meat and organs) is one way that I practice nose-to-tail eating while showing as much respect as I can to the animal. Humans have been eating this way for thousands of years, so why stop now?
Now that you know the benefits of consuming bone broth, here is a simple recipe that takes just a few minutes to prepare:
1.5-2 lbs bones (chicken feet, backs, necks, bone marrow, carcasses, etc.)
4 quarts water
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
OPTIONAL: vegetable scraps, black peppercorns, bay leaves, dried reishi mushroom, astragalus, chaga, ginger, etc.
1. Add all ingredients except water to an instant pot, pressure cooker or slow cooker.
2. Add water until it just covers the other ingredients (you may need to adjust amount of water).
3. If using a slow cooker, secure the lid and set to HIGH. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce setting to LOW. Allow broth to simmer for 12-48 hours.
4. If using an instant pot, secure the lid and set to MANUAL and HIGH PRESSURE. Set for 180 minutes and allow pressure valve to self-release when done.
5. Allow broth to cool and then pour into glass mason jars, filling them 3/4 of the way if you plan to freeze them. Be sure to store jars in the refrigerator for 24 hours before freezing. Store in the fridge for up to seven days or in the freezer for several months.
NOTE ON ADDING FLAVOR:
I rarely add seasoning to my bone broths beyond black pepper, bay leaves and vegetable/herb scraps I've saved in the freezer. I prefer to keep the taste neutral so that I can use the broth in all sorts of soups and stews in the future. The exception to this rule is the beginning of cold season, when I like to get creative with the herbs I add. I throw in ginger, garlic, reishi mushroom, astragalus, and citrus rind. Feel free to get wild with whatever immunity-boosting herbs you have lying around - leave a comment below with your creative additions!
NOTE ON WHERE TO PURCHASE BONES:
Your local butcher shop should have chicken feet or backs for sale at a very low price (I love Magnani's in North Berkeley). Organic and grass fed/pastured is best, but do what you can! Local farms or ranches often sell bones, as well. When I buy meat, I generally try to buy bone-in cuts or whole chickens so that I can save the bones in the freezer to add to future bone broths alongside the more cartilaginous pieces.