Sunday, October 16, 2016

Warming Masala Chai for Winter Days

Warming Masala Chai for Winter Days 
 Mary Ellen Wilcox
      The word chai simply means tea in many parts of the world.  When we Americans speak of chai we actually mean Masala chai which is a beverage made using black tea, spices, milk and sweetener.
     Masala chai has existed for 1,000's of years, and lore says that it began in an ancient royal court in India 9000 years ago.  Others say it is of Thai origin.  Whether India or Thailand, it is believed that it was created as an Ayurvedic mixture and cleansing remedy for minor health problems.
   In its early history it was made with a diverse mixture of spices, was served hot or cold, and prepared by many different methods.  Blends varied from area to area, and even from home to home in a particular area.

   In the 1830's Britain established a tea plantation in Assam, India.  The black teas grown there eventually became part of the original spice recipes, and became masala chai as we know it today.
     In India, tea was not popular with the masses because most of it was exported, and was too expensive for use by the Indian people.  Then in the early 1900's the British owned India Tea Association began to promote the use of tea within India.  To keep costs down, vendors used the milk, spice and sugar to give the brews flavor and sweetness, and make it affordable to the Indian people.
    Masala  became even more popular when a mechanized method of production of the black tea made it affordable to the average person.  This method, called CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl), may have lacked the nuances  required of whole leaf tea connoisseurs, but its strong tannic flavor made it a perfect product for the sweet, spicy masala blends.        
     Masala chai is usually made with the Assam CTC black tea, but Assam full leaf, Ceylon black teas, Darjeeling black teas, and even green tea (usually gunpowder green).  Rooibos (red tea) can also be used.
     The milk is usually whole milk, but half & half, low fat milk or other dairy substitutes can be used.  The sweetening used in India is an unrefined cane sugar from crushed sugar cane stalks with a flavor similar to molasses.  Turbinado sugar is a good substitute for this, and honey makes an excellent sweetener.
     Spices vary by location and personal preference.  Typical combinations include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger,  cloves and peppercorns.  Allspice, fennel, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, mace and star anise can also be used.
     In India chai is served by street vendors and train vendors (called wallahs).  Chai is used to welcome guests into the home.  A popular time for chai is an afternoon snack around 4 P.M. and usually includes savory treats. 

 Basic Masala Chai
2 cups milk or milk substitute
2 cups water
4 whole cloves
2 crushed green cardamom pods
2 crushed peppercorn
1 cinnamon stick
1 small piece peeled chopped ginger root 
2 tbsp. turbinado sugar
2 tbsp. black tea leaves (preferably Assam)
   Combine milk, water and spices in a medium saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add sugar and tea leaves.  Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain into mugs.

Masala Chai
2 cups water
4 tsp. loose black tea
1 piece dry ginger
3 cardamom pods, crushed
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Milk and sugar to taste
   Chop up ginger into fine pieces.  Break up cinnamon stick .  Bring 2 cups water to a boil.  Add tea leaves and all spices.  Let everything brew at the boil for 30 to 45 seconds.  Remove from heat and steep for 1-2 minutes.  Serve with only a bit of milk and sugar.

Masala Chai with Fennel
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk
3 tsp. tea leaves (Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling)
1" piece dry ginger
3 cardamom pods, split open
2 peppercorns
2 cloves
1" piece cinnamon
1 tsp. fennel seeds
Sugar to taste
   Grind all spices together coarsely and set aside.  Mix milk and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil on high.  As the milk/water mix rises to a boil, add the spice mix and reduce to a simmer.  When it rises to a boil again, add the tea leaves.  Allow to rise then turn off heat.  Cover and steep for 2 minutes.  Strain, add sugar and enjoy.

Green Tea Chai
2 tbsp. green tea leaves
6 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
4 cups water
   Boil water, then simmer with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves for about 10 minutes.  Add tea and steep 5 minutes.  Add milk and heat to near boiling.  Turn off heat, strain out spices and tea leaves.  Serve with honey.

Cardamom Herbal Chai
4 cups water
12 slightly crushed green cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns, cracked
3 tsp. chopped ginger
Honey to taste
Milk to taste
   Bring water to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and add spices.  Keep at simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  Stir in honey.  Add milk to taste.
Makes 3 cups

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

November/December 2016 Essential Herbal

We couldn't be prouder of the issue that closes our 15th year!  Beautiful to look at, full of delicious, important information, and as always, welcoming and inclusive to all levels of herbalism.  See for yourself and then stop on over to SUBSCRIBE OR RENEW

Table of Contents:

Field Notes from the Editor,
Thinking about Intellectual Property in New Millennium

About the Cover, Carey Jung
A wintry love song to water in the midst of the struggles for clean water in North Dakota

Sending Herbal Help, Tina Sams
How exactly can we be of the most assistance with limited funds, when calls for help are becoming so frequent?

Herby Pasta Comfort, Rita Richardson
In the deep of winter, rich gooey old fashioned macaroni and cheese can sure hit the spot.

Cannabis, Rochelle Baca
Legal in several states, it is time for the discussion of this valued medicinal plant to begin in earnest, out in broad daylight.

A Newbie Herbie, Chelsea Nasatka
The tale of finding one's newly born inner herbie on a trip to a woman's herbal gathering...

Exploring Herbal Preparations (Pao Zhi) in TCM, Daniel Cashman
Each different means of preparing a medicine gives it a different name.  This article helps demystify these processes.

Nature Ornaments, Janet Gutierrez
Using the beauty of nature to decorate for the holidays.

Essential Oil Primer Crossword Puzzle, Marge Clark
A fun way to learn a LOT.  Puzzles provide a ton of information in a relatively small space.  I love this one.

Herbalist Gift Giving Guide, Jackie Johnson
You'll find over 15 fabulous ideas and recipes in this article.  Something for everyone!

Seasonal Benefits of Pine, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Pleasant uses for pine and various conifers we associate with the season.  Several great recipes/instructions.

White Pine, Dr JoAnn Quattrone
Ode to this medicine tree.

Three Kings Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Mmmmm... a deluxe soap scented with a blend of essential oils you'll love.  Bonus soap ball instruction.

Sensational Cinnamon, Kristine Brown
There's a lot more to cinnamon than a little sprinkle over your latte.  Recipes included for Cinnamon Cocoa and Cinnamon Rose Elixir!

The Role of the Carrier in Aromatherapy, Lisa Marie Layman
Carrier are the unsung work horses in aromatherapy.  Learn how 6 popular carrier oils work, and when they are best used.

Giving the Gift of Relaxation, Debra Sturdevant
Have you wanted to try making bath fizzies?  Debra gives complete instructions and a great recipe!

Please share this post with your herbie friends!

Friday, September 30, 2016

15 years of deadlines and commitments

We just gave the go-ahead for the Nov/Dec issue.  It is the issue that ends the 15th year of The Essential Herbal.
One of my proudest accomplishments is getting every single one of those 90 issues out on schedule.  Every. One. 

First issue - I had NOTHING to do with that cover!  There were partners for the first issue only.
For the last 11 years, that was with the major assistance of Maryanne on lay-out who was also willing to stick to a strict schedule.

When Molly first started pitching in a couple years ago, I took 2 (because we put out a magazine every 2 months) generic calendar months, and outlined what happens when.  I thought that it would be 5 or 10 days that had entries, but was surprised to see that there were a couple major things that have to happen every week.  After so many years, it was automatic, and didn't even seem like work anymore.
I know my small business friends know exactly what it means to make this happen.  We love our work, but there's no denying that there are trade-offs (OTHER than benefits, regular hours, and guaranteed pay).  For instance, there is no "second shift."  If you don't get it done, you keep going until it is done.  Nobody can pick up where you left off.

In the earliest years, it meant that I packed Molly off for a weekend at her father's, and spent the next 48 hours rolling around on the floor with scissors, tape, glue, and the scent of fear.  It would be finished when she got home, and on Monday morning it would go to work (at the then printer) with me.  I'd print, bind, and trim it, and then take it home to address, wafer seal, and stamp. 
Eventually there were enough subscribers for a bulk mail permit, and then I'd do the sorting and banding and all that was entailed there.
 It means that during most of those years, business trips did double duty as what we semi-jokingly called vacations.
It means that in sometimes dire circumstances, you still have that eye on the calendar.  We lost 2 members of the family, and still look back wondering how we managed.  I was the primary caregiver for one of them.  He'd designed one of the covers, and on the day he died, we returned to the house to find boxes of that magazine had arrived and were waiting for us on the porch. 

 Before we had Carey working on the covers, they were a real challenge.  Another very memorable cover experience was making and then photographing a holiday swag on the barn - while a nasty little rooster continuously attached us.
On the other side of the coin reside so many wonderful things!
Although Molly gave up doing a lot of activities with me growing up, she's learned to forage.  She knows a lot about herbs and some pretty cool herb folk.  She's learning how to make soap, all about attending and vending at herb festivals, and she got from her mother and aunt the same thing we got from our mother - an understanding of the dedication required to run a business.

I've met amazing people who have been generous and kind with their information and writing.  We know all kinds of cool folks.  We're still learning and expect to continue that as long as our senses continue to function.

Flex time... we know what we have to do, and if we think we can get it done AND spend a couple days during the week goofing off, then we do that.
A friend just visited for a couple of days, and by doing work ahead and a little each morning, I was able to hang out with her and really enjoy it.  Of course a lot of people think that's just how our days are.  Maryanne also has a business, so we help each other, and it means we have to have TWO businesses done ahead.  We often run into people who think that because we make time for them, our days are just wide open.  Not so.  Just takes a little planning, and we can be flexible. 
Naturally, it also means that we can work in our jammies.
This magazine mails on the 10th of the month.  Then the shop copies and writer copies go out from here.  We'll take a few days off when that's done (although that's usually when we get bombarded with soap orders in my sister's wholesale soap business...), and off we'll go on our 16th year.

This winter we'll start work on the 3rd five year compilation, but it will probably be a year before it is finished.  It's a huge job, and we have a few other, smaller projects in the pipeline first.
Just for the moment, though, I'm feeling like something has been well completed.

If you'd like to subscribe, check out some back issues, or get any of our books or products, visit our website -

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Herb to Know - Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare/ Fennel 

6 or 7 years ago I was gifted with a massive quantity of files from Karen Hegre.  Many people will remember Karen from the great Yahoo! lists that she ran on many different aspects of herbalism.  Unfortunately, she had become quite ill with Alzheimer's disease.  She asked me to publish as much as I deemed usable, and passed away in November of 2013.  The problem is that I can only assume that these files that were gathered from her lists were contributed by many list participants.  In those days, list owners considered posts on "their" lists to be their property ~ yay for the sketchy, gray areas of the brand new world wide web!  This is from that vast collection.
Fennel is a perennial (zones 6-9) grown as an annual in most places.
Fennel gets two to 5 feet tall, and has 6 inch wide umbels of tiny yellow
flowers which appear in midsummer.  The feathery, blue-green leaves look
remarkably like those of dill.

Fennel leaves and seeds have a mild licorice or anise flavor and fragrance.
A sweet, aromatic, diuretic herb that relieves digestive problems, increases
milk flow, relaxes spasms, and reduces inflammation.

Sow seeds directly in the garden a week or two before your last spring frost
date.South of zone 5, you can also plant fennel seeds in the fall!
Plant in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade in southern areas.
Fennel requires moderately fertile, well-drained,moist soil....but....will
not tolerate overwatering.
Space plants six inches apart.
Largely pest-free, but prone to root rot in soggy soils.
Fennel can be container grown.

Leaves are picked for use at any time during the growing season;  leaf bases
are most tender in spring.  Stems for use in cooking are cut as required.
Roots are lifted in autumn and dried for use in decoctions.  Unripe seeds
are collected in summer for using fresh.  Ripe seeds are harvested before
they fall by cutting the seed heads and upturning into a paper bag for
drying;  they are used whole, ground, or distilled for oil.
Hang stems of leaves upside down to air dry.....and you can freeze leave in
ice cubes.

Culinary;  Fennel leaves are minced into salads or over fish, pork, eggs,
cheese, beans, rice and cabbage-family vegetables.  The seeds are added to
Asian dishes, sauerkraut, fish, lentils, breads, butter, and cheese spreads.
**Fennel's flavor fades quickly when heated, so add it to recipes just
before serving.
You can combine with extra-virgin olive oil or saffron or canola oil for
flavored cooking oil.

Medicinal:  A fennel infusion aids digestion and reduces colic in infants,
and is used as a mouthwash or gargle for gum disease and sore throat.

Cosmetic:  You can use fennel seeds to exfoliate dead skin and refine pores.

Economic:  Oil is used in food flavorings, toothpastes, soaps and air

Arrangements:  Use fresh fennel flowers in floral arrangements.
Fennel in the garden helps to repel pesky slugs and snails.

***  Fennel seeds contain a volatile oil that produces an allergic
reaction in some people who touch them!!!!***
The lacy leaves of fennel are a beautiful addition to the perennial border.
Clip a few stems and mix them with nasturtiums and calendula to create an
attractive and edible centerpiece for the table.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Natural Products Expo East '16

I have to first explain that here in my part of the world, something like 15 or 20 years ago, Whole Foods found that we were not educated or wealthy enough to support a store.  So we have never had them, Trader Joe's, or even a Wegman's.  Next year we'll have WF and Wegman's.  As time went on, we found that we have plenty of great healthy food options available.  I hope they are not injured financially by these giants.

But I digress.  Yesterday we set out for the Expo, first driving to Hunt Valley, MD, and jumping on the Light Rail which took us directly across the street from the convention center, thereby allowing us to skip the city traffic AND the parking hassle and expense.

This was Molly's first Expo.  Maryanne and I attended the first east Expo when we were just preparing to open our fulltime shop back in the early 90's.  People starting businesses since the world wide web came into being have NO idea how difficult it was to find new and innovative products back then.  The only way was to travel to shows.  We'd attended several gift type shows looking for "our" products, but weren't finding the right stuff.  The Expo almost brought us to tears!  Aisles and aisles of hippy families with their own products.  Larger businesses with tinctures, essential oils, supplements, and incenses.  It was Nirvana.

Just a couple years later, it was changed.  The atmosphere is much different.  Few and far between are the hippy families. But so goes the world, I suppose.  Just happy to have been there in the beginning.

As we approached the center, there was music, and one vendor selling a joint supplement based on turmeric (HUGE this year, and in many products, beverages, foods, etc.) and collegen had people in gold lame jumpsuits dancing energetically.  It was an interesting welcome.  Unfortunately, we didn't take nearly enough pictures.

Inside, there are glass cases filled with tiny displays from many of the vendors, to serve as an appetizer. 
There are 3 floors of vendor booths.  Between us, we hit them all, and walked most of them.  Molly did most of the second floor herself, and we did the top and bottom.  I am glad we're not stocking an herb shop right now.  They didn't really have much that would have interested us for that, although there were 2 or 3 things I might still want for the website.  It is about 90% food and drinks.

Speaking of which, drinks are really, really big.  Mostly water flavored or with nutrients or probiotics added, we sampled at least a dozen.  Some of them were pretty good.  The blackberry chia was tasty, but we couldn't help calling it "goo."  My favorite of them all was Caribe.
A TINY sampling of the drink companies.  There was also an excellent natural soda company, but I missed getting their paperwork.
 We spoke to the people at Pop Lab, who gave us little popsicles made with fresh fruit.  I had pineapple basil.  It was delicious, but reminded me of when we first started adding patchouli to the patchouli soap and were informed that it was sticking to our brother's skin.  Less, or finer bits of basil would be better.

Next we wandered off to talk to the people from the Wisconsin Ginseng Co-op.  There, I learned that Chinese ginseng is being brought to the US and then re-shipped back, claiming to be American Ginseng.  Because of that, they have a seal that lets you know.
Display of ginseng roots and various value added products at the Wisconsin Co-op booth.
 Wisconsin is (I think) the largest American producer of cultivated ginseng.
Later, at a different ginseng business, a man in a giant ginseng costume kissed my hand.  Another missed photo op.  It's not every day ... Of course we didn't get pictures of the 2 (separate) men in banana suits either, so there's that.
A variety of manuka honey candies.

The people from Jelly Belly were there with their new organic line.  There, we discussed the fact that, at 4 calories per bean, it was almost a negative calorie food... like celery!  We left laughing, but I have to say that the new line of jelly beans aren't as good.  Kind of gritty.

I also want to give a shout-out to Superseedz, a gourmet pumpkin seed company.  The man who was passing out packet of seeds found a way to flirt sweetly without being obnoxious, and at my age that's worth something.  Really tasty dry roasted pepitas, too!
There were too many cold brewed coffees to sample (Molly said they were overly milked so you couldn't taste the coffee), and there was chocolate in many forms everywhere.  We steered away just out of habit.  I'm sure it was great.  Those two items were ubiquitous at the show.  Teas, particularly matcha were also everywhere.
Some of my favorite places.  Chimes has several new flavors of ginger treats.  There go my teeth!

I found it very interesting.  There were a few booths dedicated to new kinds of sweeteners - especially monk fruit.  There were a couple of companies devoted to Jackfruit because of its nutritional and health benefits.  It is prepared mostly as a savory snack (that we saw).

Molly's impression:  "Definitely interesting, all the paleo, gluten free, organic, sustainable natural products.  I thought it was really neat that they were inclusive to everyone's needs but also loved that there were still simple products as well.  As much as I loved the grass fed, organic empanadas I was thrilled to pick up a regular black coffee and bagel.  Oh and the crackers made with cricket flour - Chirps - were pretty good!"
Maryanne (and I as well) was sad to see that it was now almost entirely a grocery show.

So aside from the stack of bright new tote bags (and my old ones really have started to wear out...), I have some pretty nice swag to wade through. 

A truly fascinating way to spend the day! Without exception, we were greeted in a friendly and welcoming manner.
Just a week or so earlier, I'd spent the train ride between Philadelphia and Atlantic City chatting with a man from Cocoatown who was on his way to the Fancy Food convention there.  I'd hoped to see him or the company at the Expo, but I may have missed them if they were there.
We were so glad to be able to get on the train back to the car, rather than schlepping with our bags back to some distant parking lot.  Molly was asleep almost as soon as we were in the car. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

all pines are conifers, but all conifers are not pines

This time of year, people start writing and talking about "pine" trees, and the corner of my one eye start to twitch a little bit.  We live on a Christmas Tree Farm, so it can become a huge part of the conversation some days.  Someone might call and ask if we have any 12 - 15 foot Pines.  We think they're actually asking for a specific thing and reply accordingly.

They get here.
"Oh no!  I didn't want that!  We always get Pines with short, soft needles." 
Ahhh... that would probably be a Fir tree.

or, "We always get those pretty pale blue Pines,"
Uh huh... Spruce.


Sometimes they want Cedar (aka Juniper).

And then there's Hemlock.  There are other conifers and evergreens too.  I'm just thinking of the ones here, and the ones most often written about as the holidays approach, and for each of the last 15 years, I have had at least one discussion with a writer.  They don't always go well.  When using plants medicinally, it is really important to understand this distinction.

These are all conifers (cone bearing) and evergreen.  They are not all Pines.



Broccoli is a vegetable - not all vegetables are broccoli.  Nobody calls spinach broccoli.
Tinsel is a decoration - not all decorations are tinsel.
A cat is a pet - not all pets are cats.
See how this works?



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