Twenty years ago, I borrowed my Mum’s copy of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. I was looking to expand my world cuisine knowledge and cooking skills. In the section on Ethiopian cooking, I found a recipe for Injera, a flatbread from the region that’s traditionally made with Teff. I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a town that’s known for it’s surprising variety in world cuisines. We had one Ethiopian restaurant at the time, so I reckoned I ought to be able to find Teff somewhere. After a week’s search, I gave up and used the substitute grain the recipe called for, whole wheat. After that, I set the search for Teff aside, and, honestly, I forgot about it.
Two decades later, I was reminded of this lovely little grain when we talked with Leda Hermecz of 100 Mile Bakery on Real Herbalism Radio. Just a day before that interview with Leda, I’d asked the Spirit World for help in finding a way to make peace with the grass family so I can ease back on my allergic response to their pollen. As one of the earliest domesticated grasses in the Eragrostis family, Teff is well suited to the job. I reckon that since I didn’t have hay fever until I was in late grade school, some part of me still remembers how to not react so strongly to grass pollen. Teff may well help me remember how to connect with that part of myself.
To grow close to this unexpected teacher, I picked up some Teff seed and Teff flour at my local foodie-grocery. I’m baking Teff peanut butter cookies with my son, adding Teff seed to my soups, and making a small Teff amulet to use as a focus point for some journey work around rediscovering my calm in the face of a grass-pollinated atmosphere.
If you’re looking to work with Teff on a magical level, focus on your relationship to the Sun and Light. Teff is a light-sensitive grass. He needs 12 hours of sunlight a day to fruit. Given the right light, however, this grass is hardy and strong, capable of handling a wide range of environmental conditions and competitors
Keep in mind, too, Teff’s modern name most likely descended from the Amaharic teffa, which means lost. Today, we surmise this grain was connected with the idea of being lost because his seeds are so small they’re easily lost. That idea underlies our human relationship with Teff.
On the personal level Teff grains are so small we might easily lose the seeds through careless handling or not paying attention as the grains ripen and therefore missing the moment before they’re so ripe they fall to the ground and are lost. On this level, Teff demands close attention. On a larger scale, Teff is a grain who fell out of fashion, and thus was lost to many people, until recent years when he’s been re-discovered by modern bakers and cooks worldwide. At this level, Teff suggests we reconsider that which was valued by our ancestors once again.
Other Teff project ideas:
- Plant some Teff seed to help remember your connection with the plains, fields, and wild places in the world and in yourself.
- Incorporate a bit of Teff seed into a seed mandala to honor the space between death and rebirth represented by seeds.
- Use Teff as an offering to your feathered friends by adding the seed to peanut butter or suet feeder mixes.
- Make Teff cookies to help reconnect with the sunny, joyful aspects of youth.
- Offer a Teff-filled goodie to someone else in honor of the relationship humans began with this grain centuries ago.
For more information on the medicinal and magical uses of Teff, see The Practical Herbalist!