Friday, December 19, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree!


                               Oh Christmas Tree!
                               By Marci Tsohonis ~ Monitor, WA.
                               Published in Essential Herbal Nov/Dec '12
                               and Through the Seasons

Every winter, right around Thanksgiving time, our heart’s focus moves from “everything else” to the Christmas season.   The hunt is on for the perfect Christmas tree.  Some families mark the tradition of tree hunting with a romantic outing in the woods, complete with a tailgate picnic and hot chocolate.  If that sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve noticed, too, that ``perfect’’ tree generally ends up being one of the first ones you passed, 2 hours and 17 muddy ruts ago!                                                                                                                      

Some families buy their tree from a commercial vendor; others grow a tree on their own property, or sell acres of them to others.  In my experience, the selection process is just not logical, no matter how you approach the choosing of that magical tree.  In the minds eye, the candidate is archetypal, compared with all the trees in all the living rooms and all the experiences of Christmas Past you’ve ever had.  My husband has been remarkably patient, even that time he had to cut off the top third of the tree, and then prune a perfectly angled 2+ feet off the entire circumference, from top to bottom, to accommodate our furniture in our then very small living room.  

In 1999, the year we officially became Empty Nesters, Tom and I decided we weren’t going to be the cause of the sacrifice of any more living trees.  We had developed some environmental awareness and were learning about sustainability.  Alas, shopping excursions to hunt for the perfect artificial tree were disappointing.  We saw trees that lit up with blinky fiber optic lights, trees with built in rain or ornaments that flashed, flocked trees with fake Christmas tree scents, and weird, (not even remotely natural looking) trees with limbs of flexible steel that hurt when you brushed against them.   However, we were committed.  (In hindsight, we should have been!) Eventually we settled on a “tree” priced at the upper limits of our spending range, reasoning it would be our forever Christmas tree.


A Christmas CD played in the background as Tom hauled all the ornament boxes up from the basement.  I lit a Balsam Fir scented Yankee candle, and made two mugs of Hot Cocoa.  It was lightly snowing outside, and a fire blazed brightly in the fireplace. The stage was set.  Oh, what commendable earthlings we were!   Traditional carols trilled through the house, interrupted by a few choice cusswords as Tom assembled the tree.  Finally, our tree was in the stand, in front of the bay window where we always placed our tree.  The fake branches looked a bit sparse.  We adjusted the branches, fluffing up the bendy needles as suggested in the assembly book.  We covered them in as many ornaments as the tree would hold, though it could not hold all the sentimentally inspired ornaments we had made or collected over the years.



Christmas came.  We both missed the wild scent of a real Balsam Fir every moment during those holidays. Christmas went.  We learned that assembling a fake tree isn’t nearly as difficult as getting it to fit back in the box after the holidays. 
Part of any growth process is being able to admit that you’ve made a mistake.  We changed our minds again.   We could not, would not, celebrate another Christmas without a real Christmas tree.  To compensate for future sacrifices, we have learned to propagate Evergreens and plant new trees whenever we can.  We now have several future Christmas trees growing on our own property.   Oh, bet you are wondering what ever happened to that pathetic, artificial tree.  To the best of our knowledge it is still up in the attic at our previous home, gathering dust.  We moved seven years ago. 

While morphing into a tree hugger, I was learning about herbs, soap making, infusions, lotions and potions. I researched medicinal uses and cottage crafts for retired Balsam Firs,  as they are easily the most readily available for Christmas trees in the Pacific Northwest.  I have really enjoyed making the following remedies and crafts.

Balsam Fir:

Inhale steaming vapors to relieve sinus or chest congestion.  Snip a cup or two of needles off a branch.  Add them to an equal part of water in an electrical inhaler, if you have one.  If not, simmer the needles in a covered saucepan for about 10-15 minutes.  Drape a towel over your head to contain the vapors and lean over the pan, breathing deeply for a few minutes until it quits steaming.

Cold and Flu Tea:  Add a fat teaspoon of Fir needles to a mug or personal teapot.  Cover and steep about 10 minutes.  Sweeten with honey.  Drink 3 mugs full over the course of the day to ease congestion.

Cold and Flu Bath:  Fill a muslin drawstring bag with Fir needles and Rosehips.  Float it in the tub while you are soaking, then use the bag as a washcloth once the contents have softened.

Balsam Fir Oil infusion:  Fill a small crock-pot ¾ full of fir needles.  Add Soybean or Olive Oil to cover.  Heat at about 100 degrees for most of a day.  Strain and place in a quart jar with a lid.  Store in a cool place.

Balsam Fir Salve:  To make a wonderful anti-viral, anti-bacterial salve, melt 1¼ oz. Bee’s Wax pastilles into 8 oz. of infused oil.  Cool to 140 degrees. If desired, add a little Balsam Fir essential oil just before pouring into storage containers.

Aromatic Coasters or Hot Pads:  If you are handy with a sewing machine, make coasters lined with thin wool or cotton quilt batting.  Before sewing the last seam closed, drop in 2-3 Tbsp. of Fir needles for the coaster and 1/2 cup for the hot pad.  Sew closed.  Shake the coaster to evenly distribute the needles.  Topstitch the coaster or hot pad with a “corner to corner X” to hold the Fir needles in place, and keep them from clumping.

Wishing you all a warm and cozy Christmas!


 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Herb of the Week: Ginger



posted by Molly Sams

Ginger has become one of my favorite herbs (as many have) over the past year. When I was little it usually took some sort of bribery to get me to eat ginger for an upset stomach or for motion sickness. While it seems silly now I associated ginger with getting sick so I would never want to take it. Sorry Mom, I didn’t mean to be such a stubborn little kid.

Luckily, my mom has shown me the error of my ways. A warm cup of ginger and honey can be the best remedy for a day spent out in the cold or menstrual cramps. Ginger can also be a fantastic addition to your soup or stew to add flavor and heat without it being too spicy. A fantastic way to stay refreshed throughout the day is by drinking an iced ginger tea mixed with hibiscus flowers. The vitamin C mixed with the ginger will keep you alert and in good health no matter how hectic your day gets.

One of my favorite ways to eat ginger, however, is when it has just become crystallized. I eat way too much of it (most of it) this way. Since it is warm and just rolled in sugar it is the perfect candy to eat after running in from making snow angels or shoveling the driveway.

It’s great in Chai as well. Instead of adding tons of sugar just add a bit of honey and ginger for the perfect amount of spice.

Great for stomach aches, motion sickness, nausea, and is just really tasty. Energetically ginger is hot and dry, which can be helpful when you have the sniffles or painful flu symptoms. Ginger may also help during menstruation since it is a menagogue and drinking it as a warm tea may help soothe cramping pain. You can keep a bag of crystallized ginger during your time of the month or when you have a long drive ahead of you. It tastes amazing and can help curb your candy cravings.

If you need a new recipe for the holidays here is one my mother tried and we really enjoyed it. Perfect substitute for a fruitcake:

Banana Apple Bread with Persimmon and Walnuts
2 lg. ripe bananas
1 c persimmon pulp
1 c. sugar
1 egg
4 T butter, softened
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 t each, salt and baking soda
1 apple diced small
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan; set aside.
In a bowl mash bananas and persimmon together.  Beat in sugar, then egg and butter. In another bowl, stir together flour, salt and baking soda; add to banana mixture and stir just until all flour is moistened. Add apples and nuts; stir just until well mixed. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 60 minutes. Center will be very moist.  This is why persimmon breads are often called "pudding" but it is perfectly delicious.

If you don't have persimmon, you can just add another banana or some applesauce to make up the difference.

January/February '15 Essential Herbal Magazine

Hot off the presses!!!
Got back from a breakfast meeting with some herb women to find boxes of the new issue had arrived while I was gone.  Without further ado, I present the cover and table of contents of the Jan/Feb '15 Essential Herbal (and so begins our 14th year)...
 
You can subscribe at www.essentialherbal.com
Field Notes, Tina Sams
How do we absorb herbal knowledge?
About the Cover
Announcing our 2015 cover artist—Carey Adler Jung!
The Healing Mists, Liz Henle
Rediscover an ancient women’s healing ritual.
Winter Moisturizing, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Make these softening and moisturizing skin delights.
Through the Looking Glass, Susanna Reppert Brill
A glimpse into the life of Fairy Artist, Cicely Mary Barker. First in a new series!
What Will You Do This Winter? List Article
We asked the Yahoo! group what they are looking forward to in the quiet of winter.
Making Time, Rachel Johnston
The things you love most often fall to the end of the list. Shouldn’t they come first?
Matcha Tea, Jackie Johnson
Revered for thousands of years, this powdered tea deserves a place in your cup.
Dried Flower Candle Decals, Maryanne Schwartz
Turn a plain pillar candle into a work of art, or make a wax hurricane lamp.
Creativitea, Molly Sams
So many herbs to try!
Elders & Herbs: People, Pets & Herbs, Janice Masters
Companion animals benefit from the food as medicine adage, with a sprinkling of herbs.
2015 Herbs in the Spotlight, Tina Sams
This year, Savory and Common Dittany have been chosen for study.
TMJ, Adrian White
Herbal help for Temporalmandibular Joint Disorder.
Herbal Crafting with Kids, Sharlene Young-Bolen
Fun projects for kids.
Balsam Poplar (Cottonwood) Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Oil infused with Cottonwood buds is the base for this luxury bar.
Interesting Folk Remedies for Cold and Flu, Sandy Michelsen
A collection of ways to ease those winter bugs, including chicken soup.
Excerpts from Granny’s Remedy Book, Susan Hess
19th century Pennsylvania cough remedies, many (or variations) still in common use.
3 Categories of Skin Issues, Jamie Jackson
So you say you have a rash, eh?
Scents from the Still Room, Catherine Love
Refreshing the scent of home in the middle of winter.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Looking for something for a fledgling business owner?

When the magazine was just a wee baby, I was living on a gnawed and knotted shoestring.  I've told the story before, but those first couple of years were rough.  I'd shave off a 16th of an inch from the 3 non-bound edges (working in the printshop bindery, on a guillotine cutter) until I got it down below 3 ounces to save 10 or 20 dollars on postage each issue.
Eventually we had enough subscribers to get a bulk rate on postage, but at that time the magazine was all work and no pay and pulling together the $150 it took to set up the account might as well have been a million.  I mentioned it to my mom in passing.

She went to the post office and set it up for me as a Christmas/birthday gift that year.
It was one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone ever gave me.  It made an enormous difference.

It told me that she believed in what I was doing, and wanted to see the business succeed.

Not many small businesses need a bulk mail permit, but just about all of them could benefit from something else that they might not feel like they can afford, and that is advertising.

Print advertising continues to exist as long as the magazine, and hardly anyone throws out their copies of The Essential Herbal.  It gives a business a solid impression and when the ad is repeated several times, people start to remember the business and feel familiar with it.  On the internet, 1000's of ads fly past us everyday, but on paper they have the same quality of the publication in which they are included. 

If you know someone starting out in an herb business (or even someone fairly established), consider this option.  We have gift certificates available in varying amounts, or you can order it, give us their contact information, and we'll take care of the rest.  Here's a link to our advertising page with rates:
http://www.essentialherbal.com/category/ADVERTISING-5
Feel free to email me at Tina@EssentialHerbal.com with any questions regarding this gift.
Most of our advertisers have been with us for years, and a couple have been with us since we started offering advertising in our third year. 

Through the Seasons - Our Second Five Years

Things have finally calmed down around here since the book has been completed and all the pre-orders (and prizes) went out.

Here are a few quick reviews:

"I just received my book in the mail today, it is beyond belief , it is so much more than I ever expected, I will be busy as a bee this winter. Thank you so much for all the hard work it took, bless all who had a part in this wonderful book :)"
Carol McCuish

"OMG. This book is amazing. I am in awe. Speechless. I'm going to order the other ones too , later, when I get more money.
Simply beautiful. I don't know how you do it. EVERY HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY NEEDS TO HAVE THIS BOOK. EVERY ONE."
Lisa Cunningham

 "I got mine today and I was so happy! My family will be slightly disappointed though since mom will be holed up somewhere for the next few days devouring everything!!! "
Meredith Bunch

"What a treasure you have created!!  I will be sharing it with my daughter as she and her family are living and learning herbs!"
Cheryl in CA




We're very proud of it.  450 pages of the very best information from the years 2008 through 2012.  We started with over 900 pages, and made very effective use of the 450 that were alloted.  The results are pretty amazing.  10 pages of index!  All the articles, concoctions, recipes, crafts, and bath and body are easy to find and placed into meaningful chapters.

Now we have 10 full years available.  Our 2 volume set (available together or separately) of the first 5 years - Under the Sun, and By the Hearth - contain 2002 through 2007 and each are over 200 pages.

Now we get to relax for a few years.
We hope you'll enjoy these!
 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Help for Holiday Stress

We're in the thick of it now.  This time of year can be filled with joy.  If you happen to be one of those rare creatures that stepped right out of a Hallmark card with unlimited funds, this is when you shine.  The rest of us... we can find this season to be a real struggle.  Less than perfect family relationships, comparing ourselves to the media driven illusion, and trying to make everyone happy can be crushing in the face of all that gaiety!  Is everyone else as carefree and happy as they appear?  Well no, not really.  They're just like you.
There are a lot of simple things we're reminded to do every year.  Eat healthy foods.  Make a master list and schedule what you need to get done.  Realize your limitations.  Make time for family traditions.  Drink plenty of fluids.  Get plenty of rest (who comes up with this stuff???) and be sure to schedule things you truly enjoy.
In all honesty, our family is pretty chill about the holidays.  We make gifts or swap services/talents.  We have a great meal.  We spend a day in a nearby town with amazing small shops, and enjoy the old fashioned holiday vibe there immensely.  We choose a night to do the food shopping, and go LATE, missing the crowds. There are no little ones around, so that means it's a much calmer, quieter time (but kids are SO much fun).  After years of running several businesses between us, we've learned that we can only do so much and prioritize.  We even tried pushing it back a week one year, so that we could have that extra time when things calmed down - but that was a complete bummer.  We won't do that again.  It pointed out to us that we were sacrificing too much to work.

Over the years, we've found many things that helped us get through.  I think the hardest years were when we had the herb shop, soap biz, and tree farm all going at once, but even now it can be a lot to handle.  Below you will find some of our favorites. 

In our house, Cuppa Happy tea is a staple.  Herbs chosen to keep us happy and healthy, it tastes good and the act of stopping to make a cup of tea is a good reminder to take a breather.  There's a reason people around the world take tea in the afternoon.
 We put Stop the World together a couple of months ago, and decided to share it.  Things have been so hectic and hurried that we were starting to A) snap at each other, and B) shut down, letting things go that should have had our attention.  This blend of tulsi, mimosa, motherwort, and borage has been a game-changer for us.
 For years and years, the most popular Sniffing Jar in my sister's line was the Sinus Sniffing Jar.  In the last 5 or 6 years, the Stress Jar has crept up on it, though.  Life is full of stress, and we all know it.  This little jar filled with a blend of herbs and oils fits easily in a purse, desk drawer, or night side table.  If kept covered between uses, they retain their oomph for at least a year.
We also have bath teas in Soothing and Relaxing varieties.  Lots of lavender things like soap, spray, and lotion bars are on our website, and they can make a real difference.  Do a little stress free scrolling on our website, and you might find just the thing!
To help with gift shopping, we have gift certificates, gift subscriptions, and many wonderful gift ideas. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Herb of the Week: Cloves




 
Ah, cloves. The sweet, spicy aroma mixing with the citrus of oranges and pine can bring anyone back to their grandma’s house during the holidays. I remember when I was little sticking cloves into lemons, limes, oranges, or clementines to give our home that complex and inviting fragrance that seemed to be the jump start to our festivities.

Recently, I’ve found that cloves can be used for more than just pomanders, though.  Often used in mulling spices, teas, and cooking, cloves are can be found in many family recipes. Cloves can be used medicinally as well. Clove oil has been used for centuries to relieve pain, especially pain associated with cavities, toothaches, and root canals.

Clove oil is analgesic, anti-aging, antibacterial, anticlotting, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, antioxidant, antiseptic, antiviral, carminative, expectorant, insecticide, stimulant. It contains eugenol, which is used in countless toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other dental hygienic products. Eugenol has been known to ease toothaches and sore throats but may also help keep your mouth clean and bacteria free.

Some use clove oil in their own body care and cosmetics. Because it is warming, clove can encourage circulation to the skin giving it a more youthful look. By improving circulation it can also soothe sore muscles. Adding it into your moisturizer or massage oil could be just the pick-me-up you need in the winter.

One of my favorite uses for them however is when cloves mixed into licorice tea. When the two react to the warm water the aroma is intoxicating and the warming energetics of both the herbs can bring anyone with a sore throat or stuffy nose relief.



Monday, December 01, 2014

Our fb story - a small caution to small businesses

For the last 9 months or so, I've been formulating this post in my mind.  This isn't a complaint so much as if I can help another small business through this, I want to do that.  As time passed, I thought about how this *might* have gone, had our business been less flexible.  I've gotten a lot of questions from other small business owners, and have shared when asked.  So here goes...


Last year at about this time, after working and planning carefully every day for 5 years (no exaggeration there), we had reached 11,000 fans on our page.  I was pretty proud of that number, but extremely frustrated because as the holiday season approached our posts were being seen by fewer and fewer people.  So I decided to try a few things.
I tried asking simple questions that got 100's of answers.
I did 3 or 4 giveaways over the course of a couple weeks.
I posted pictures with text including recipes and information (very sharable).

.... and then something magical happened.  Suddenly we were getting a thousand or more new likes a DAY!  It was insane and a little (okay - really, a lot) scary.  Where were they coming from?  What happened?
So I asked them, right on the page.  Turns out we were a recommended page, and people were following the link that facebook put up.  My guess is that all the recent activity on the page tripped something in an algorithm.

It continued until we were past 72,000.  That was last January.  We've barely gotten 1000 since then.  Again, not complaining, just aware.

In those 2 months or so, business went absolutely insane.  If I had not been able to pull in help from family (a lot of other sorts of businesses are not nearly so flexible), I would have been forced to hire help.  Maybe purchase equipment.  I've thought a lot about that this year, what other businesses might have been forced to do under those circumstances.  The worst thing for me was having to do a reprint of an issue of the magazine to keep up with demand - big deal :-)  I was also working on a book for a publisher with very tight deadlines that I would have renegotiated, had I know that the business was about to explode.

And then just as suddenly, the faucet was turned off.  I can't say that those additional 60,000 people aren't still a boon to our business, but they aren't the same as the 11,000 we grew organically.  At the same time, I have my doubts about the statistics shown and think they are under-reported, but that's another story.

So right now I'm seeing a lot of recommended pages again.  I suspect this might happen to other small businesses, so wanted to put out this small warning.

In the meantime, we're working on re-booting our Yahoo! group, and put more of our focus there and on our blog posts.  I can't complain because we love the fb page too - but now that Molly is working on social media we have a lot more options.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Special - Short and Sweet!

Our offer - though Monday - is this:
Shop around on our website, and pick out over $40 worth of merchandise.  Nothing is excluded.  When you're finished, look around on the downloadable book tab.
Choose from:
     Crafting the Bath
     Fairy Home Companion
     An Elder Gathering
     Herb Soaps from Scratch
     Herbie Word Puzzles
     Herb Beads
     Blending Herbal Teas
     Balms & Salves
     Making and Using Herb Vinegars
      Perfect Potpourri and Scented Gifts
OR any of our listed back issues.
When you've found the one you want, place your order for $40 or more, and in the comments section, give us the title.  We'll send you the link to that book or magazine as soon as the order arrives in our in-box.  And just about the time you've finished enjoying it, your order will arrive!
Pretty good deal, eh?

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