Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mar/Apr 2016 Essential Herbal Cover and TOC

It's a few days early for us to be putting up the new issue, but for the second time in over 14 years, we sold out before we were ready!   Get your subscription now!
We've got a great early spring issue coming up for you.  As the snow drifts my driveway shut (again), we can read and dream and remember that spring will indeed come again.
Carey's beautiful cover art depicts the view a gopher might see as the weather turns and blossoms begin to fill the air above her tunnel.

Field Notes, Tina Sams
Making lemonade from lemons, or movin’ on down.
In the Liminal, Adrie Lester
Clingy Cleavers, Kristine Brown
Learn all about this early spring helper.
Herb Notes from 1000 Foods, Rita Richardson
Book review.
Simmering Spices, Maryanne Schwartz
A recipe to cleanse the air.
Relief from Restless Leg Syndrome, Liz Fulcher
Several great remedies to help put an end to that creepy crawly feeling.
Floriography, The Silent Language of Flowers, Debra Sturdevant
Communication was accomplished without uttering a word. Here’s how…
The Healing Power within Turmeric: Curcumin, Joe Smulevitz
This amazing spice has so much to offer us. It can address a great variety of ailments, and it complements so many dishes, too.
Crossword Puzzle, Cayenne
A little fun with the herb of the year.
Mountain Mint: Notable Native 2016, Molly Sams
One of our favorite plants for pollinators here in our garden.
Colonial Gardens, Jackie Johnson
Not so long ago, these gardens made the difference between a hard winter, and a terribly hard winter.
Native American Plant, Labrador Tea, Marcy Lautanen Raleigh
Read about this folk medicine also known as “Indian Tea.”
What Your Liver Needs, Suzan Tobias Scholl
What are the best ways to help keep this very vital organ… well… vital?
Figgie-Oat Honey Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Another spectacular and unusual soap recipe from Marci.
Violets: Jewels of the Field, Elisha Goulet
It’s almost time to spend a few hours on the ground picking violets. Find out why you’ll want to take part in this spring tradition.
Using Herbs in Self Care, Molly Sams
We so often forget how to slow down and relax, but with a few herbal preparations, it can be much easier.
Rosemary, Because I Remember! Tina Sams
This versatile tender perennial has long been a part of herbal legends.
It All Starts with the Harvest, Susanna Reppert-Brill
A chart showing tea from harvest to cup, and how it got there.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Spring Classes at The Essential Herbal

We've got a brand new classroom and we can't wait to get started!  If you're local and interested in learning, please consider joining us for one or more of these offerings.

Herbal Candies for Immunity - March 5, 2016 1-3 pm
We're going to make 2 different goodies in this one.  While we make them, we'll talk about the ingredients and how they will help us fight off germs.  We'll give some other good ways to stay healthy while we're at it.
First up will be a hard candy featuring elderberry, ginger, and lemon.
Next we'll be borrowing from Rosemary Gladstar, and making "Immunity Balls" with a nod to her Zoom Balls, but using herbs that help us face the changing seasons with confidence.
This class will be partially hands-on, and each participant will be taking home some of what we make along with the recipes for these and some others.  $30

Herbal Preparations for Stress - March 19, 2016 1-3 pm
We will arm you with lots of tools to modulate stress. We'll discuss several herbs and their uses that can belpful and then we'll make a tea, a tincture, and Molly will help us all make a small anti-stress pillow. You'll take home some of everything we make along with instructions. $25

Spring Cleaning, Naturally - April 2, 2016 1-3 pm
Come on over and learn how to cut the harsher chemicals and scents right out of the equation. Use inexpensive and simple ingredients like great-grandma did, and feel good about the way your nice clean house smells. We'll put together a lot of recipes (class hand-out) and we'll make several of them during the class. Samples will go home with participants. $25

We'll be at the PA Herb and Garden Faire this Friday and Saturday  (April 8 and 9)- come see us!

Kitchen Cosmetics - April 16, 2016 1-3 pm
Get harsh chemicals off your dressing table.
Sort of a spring cleaning for the skin. We suggest that you arrive for this one sans make-up and not terribly worried about your hair, because we will be playing! We'll make all kinds of skin rejuvenating preparations, at a perfect time to wake up your face after a long, dry winter. There will be recipes and samples to take home. $25

Landis Valley Herb and Garden Faire is May 6th and 7th.  We're directly across from the entrance.

Weed Walk, Medicinal - May 14, 2016 1-3 pm
If you have waterproof boots/shoes, wear them. We'll be walking down into the woods and identifying some medicinal herbs, some spring ephemeral flowers, and whatever else crosses our path. Then we'll return to the workshop where some pre-infused oil (using some of the herbs we've just identified) will be ready for us to strain and turn into a wonderful healing salve.
Take home a jar of salve, a few recipes using the herbs we saw, and also, you may want to bring a couple bags so that you can take some weeds home to play with later. $25

Weed Walk, Edible - May 28, 2016 1-3 pm
It's hard to say exactly what we'll find and what we'll be eating, but there will be plants to identify and we'll whip some of them up into some interesting dishes.  Part of the fun is the anticipation and wondering what we'll find! 
This is another one to bring/wear your boots for.  There will be recipes to take home, we'll be sampling different foods, and you should probably bring along some baggies in case there is a weed (or herb from the garden) that you'd like to take home. $25

Pre-registration is required.
Hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Resources for the Safe Use of Essential Oils

Since yesterday, I have read hundreds of replies to my post.  Some of you brought me to tears.  Some of you made me feel like I was part of a very large group.  And some of you made me smile in solidarity.

The biggest message I got (and it was a stunner) was that so many people have *only* heard of, or learned about essential oils through the person they purchase them from!  The number of requests for places to find good, useful information was dumb-founding.  And I mean that literally.  I had to stop and think about it, and then ask my aromatherapist friends for suggestions.  So first, a few really good websites, and then some of my favorite books...

A terrific source for articles, book reviews, sources, schools, etc.  Lots of good, reliable information.

A good scientifically oriented site that sifts through the hype and mumbo-jumbo to give you good, clear data.

Robert Tisserand's Blog:
The Tisserand name has been prominent in aromatherapy since the 70's and Robert Tisserand has been a professional aromatherapist for over 45 years.  Good, trustworthy information.

For injury reports and instructions on how to report injuries:

As for the books, I will tell you that I am not terribly left-brained and while some of my friends prefer huge professional aromatherapy tomes (and might call some my choices "novels" in a slightly condescending manner), I believe that the general public, the people that I'm talking to... will get what they're looking for by starting with one or more of these books.  None of these books set out to CURE anything.  They comfort, ease, soothe, and help with symptoms and/or self-limiting illnesses or mental frames of mind and behavioral issues. 

HERBS & THINGS, Jeanne Rose's Herbal (IBSN 0-399-50944-5)
This book has been around since 1972, and it's still a good book to have.  For one thing, I believe that anyone getting into essential oils should at least understand what an infused oil is, what a water infusion is, and then they will be able to grasp just how concentrated essentials are.  This book is full of interesting information.  Jeanne Rose is now more focused on distilling, and her site is 

(ISBN 0-931432-82-0)
This was one of our favorite books back in the early 90's when we had our shop, and we recommended (and sold) it often.  The author shares ways to incorporate essential oils into life in hundreds of ways, and does it in a safe and reasonable manner.  There are some food recipes, so that may be confusing to some, since in order to convince people to stop drinking and encapsulating these oils, very often the aromatherapy community seems to be saying NO consumption, but there you have it...

ESSENTIAL OILS AND AROMATICS by Marge Clark (ISBN 978-1-933317-73-1)
Marge happens to be a good friend, but I would love this book even if I'd never met her.  It is beautiful, concise, tells you what you need to know, and then shares some wonderful formulation recipes.

THE HERBAL HOME SPA by Greta Breedlove (ISBN 1-58017-005-6)
For those wanting to make their own products for body care, this book is a blast.  Hair, face, massage, and skin are all covered.  Tons of recipes and instructions.
This book is from Storey Publications, and I'd also highly recommend their offerings:
THE HERBAL BODY BOOK, by Stephanie Tourles
NATURAL BABY CARE, by Colleen Dodt
In fact, Storey has a lot of great books.  My sister and I share the library, and these are down at the soap workshop right now, so I don't have the ISBN's.

HARVEST TO HYDROSOL, by Ann Harman (ISBN 978-0-9913859-0-4)
This book is pretty new.  I loved reading it even though it is all about copper stills, and mine is glass.  Hydrosols are the steam that rises and carries the essential oil away from the plant material, and when it returns to a liquid state, tiny molecules of essential oil are emulsified and suspended in the water.  We are generally most familiar with hydrosols in the form of witch hazel or rose water.  This is a lovely book.

(ISBN 1-86204-642-5)
This book covers 65 essential oils, giving description, actions, extraction method, characteristics, and common usage.  It goes on to provide a reference section on common complaints, discussion on the art of blending, information on buying, storing, and safe use guidelines.  And a whole lot more, especially in relation to massage.

If none of these look interesting, try Googling "Essential Oil Book" and you'll find many more.  These are just the ones I have handy that have been helpful to me.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

My last words on the essential oil fiasco...

We don't sell essential oils, but we do have a small distiller and have a pretty clear understanding of how they are created.  So while my income is not dependent on eo's, whenever I speak out on the safe use of them I get nasty notes and canceled subscriptions, so this goes deeply into the negative column for me. 
I'm going to talk about what I've been watching for the last few years, and I'm even going to forgo any kind of icky, high-falluting, talk of chemistry and components and reactions.  Clearly, all that science-y stuff is just a ploy to confuse people. 
I may, however, use sarcasm from time to time.

In the 20+ years that I've been working and playing with essential oils, I've broken some of the so called rules.  We used to believe that a few oils could be used "neat" without being diluted.  Then I met a couple women whose lives had been forever altered after becoming sensitized to lavender oil in their work with the oils.  Simply relaying this new information about the use of neat oils has caused me to lose business and a few friendships.  Thing is, the common use of essential oils by the general public is relatively new.  Only a handful of decades.  Until then it was used mostly in commercial or scientific settings with proper safety apparel, etc. So what we know is not absolute.  It changes.  When it does, we must be willing to accept that new information.

This does not mean that ONLY lavender oil causes a problem for them.  It means that many, many scents can set off a chain of events that send them to bed for a few days.  The components (oops - sorry, I used it) in lavender oil are in many others and are in all kinds of products that we use every day.  You can barely get away from it.

One time I made some mints for an open house.  The recipe called for 2 pounds of confectioners sugar, 1 pound of cream cheese, and a single drop of peppermint.  I used 3 drops.  The mints were barely edible, but they did clear the sinuses.  So yes, the argument that essential oils are used in food is true.  HUGEly diluted (for instance 3 pounds to 1 drop), but they are indeed valuable flavoring and in medicine.

Gradually over the years, the conventional wisdom in the use of eo's changed a little bit but mostly I changed when I learned through some stupidity on my own part that there was a reason we do things the way we do.
Those who have studied essential oils for their entire working lives tell us that they can cause liver damage over time - especially if taken internally willy-nilly.  It's funny how that stuff happens.  When we can't see it, we often don't believe it.  I once worked at a company where the toluene and other solvents hung in the air until we didn't even notice anymore, but the people who worked where chrome was applied and dissolved were required to have extensive physical exams on a yearly basis.  Nobody really thought much about it. The money was good, and you couldn't see or feel anything.  Most of us were young.  It seemed though that a lot of my friends there had babies with health issues.  Nobody talked about it.  
With essential oils, people are working so hard to try to warn others of the dangers.  There are sites where data on injuries and related deaths are cataloged.  There are people who spend a good part of every day trying to reach people and tell the truth.  So it isn't that it isn't being talked about.  It's that there's too much money to be made from the current lack of knowledge.

So now we are seeing people giving others truly unsafe and uneducated advice on the use of essential oils. 
-They are selling it.  So there's money to be made.
-People who are sick want the talk of miracles to be true.  Desperately.  Most of us know and love someone who is ill at any given time, and would love to find a cure. 
-Unfortunately, for some people, it's become hard to trust the medical industry when people are jacking up prices 5000X for a drug and there are no repercussions.  There are some sectors that are all about the money, but you can take the time to find a physician you trust.  It is not the entire industry, although I've yet to see any sector of the pharmaceutical industry that maintains the altruism that I expected in my youth... Please prove me wrong.  I'd love that.  But that makes it much easier for hucksters to convince their marks.
-We do not know the consequences of these applications.  Never in the history of mankind have essential oils been used internally like this, in these intense quantities.  Never have we slathered ourselves with these concentrated chemicals.  So starting a kid early, maybe they'll *only* be sensitized by puberty OR maybe they'll be facing multiple organ failure.  WE DO NOT KNOW!

In the end, I think this will be the last word on essential oil safety from me.  Reason and learning have been vastly overwhelmed by social media.  My friends who have worked and educated themselves in the field of essential oil over the last few decades have been working tirelessly to protect people from shysters, and it looks to me like a losing cause. 

In herbs, we get huge waves of new people from time to time, and sometimes it is even due to something like Herbalaff (or something like that...), which was sort of equivalent.  Around 20 years ago, Herbalaff sold the herbal cure for everything, and you too could get in on their pyramid. For some reason, they were quickly squashed, even though in most cases herbs are much safer than the extremely concentrated essential oils.  I suspect that there aren't enough people in a position to prosecute that  know anything about the oils.  In any case, oils fly under the wire, even though they are often THOUSANDS of times more potent than a cup of herb tea or a capsule of herb.

It is disheartening and frightening to see the advice people are given. Here are just a few of the more insane methods:

*Put a few drops in a capsule and take them daily (then try to find a way to get on a liver transplant list now).  You know why you have to use that capsule?  The capsule gets it past the mucus membranes that have pain sensors. It sails past the area where you'd be able to SEE the scarring.  Don't believe me?  Dab a little oregano oil anywhere inside your mouth.

*____ oil will cure _____.  Really.  No. This is HIGHLY illegal. If you hear the word "cure" please run because the person saying it has broken the law and does not have your best interests at heart.  Please note that doctors don't sell drugs, and pharmacists don't diagnose and/or treat disease.  There's a reason for that, and it is to protect you.  Everyone who works in herbs hates this law, but this is why it exists.

*Any use of any oil on a newborn by anyone other than a highly trained aromatherapist (who most likely would not do it).

*Soak a tampon with ____ and wear it overnight (after which you can go to the ER for removal and treatment for the chemical burn).

*Apply these oils undiluted directly to the skin. Often the spine. That reaction is not a healing crisis (or whatever they call it), it is a second or sometimes third degree chemical burn.

*Tonight I heard about vaping essential oils.  Right into the lungs.  Might as well try to get some lungs with that new liver transplant.

So I'm probably going to give up fighting.  It is a deluge of ignorance and greed.  I'm afraid that some terrible things will happen to some people, especially children who have no say, but there's just no stopping it.  In the end, we'll all be punished for this, and find that the oils have become highly regulated, hard to obtain, and much more expensive - because some won't learn and refuse to listen to reason. 

Don't bother writing to tell me how wrong I am, I won't let it through.  The ignorance has over-run the internet, but at least I can control the comments on this blog.

NOTE - We added a post with some good resources:

Monday, February 01, 2016

Witch Balls Fun Facts and Superstitions

We decided to start offering witch balls late last year and it has definitely peaked my interest. Here are a few interesting tid bits I found along the way.

1. Face your witch ball east

Putting your witch ball in an East-facing window may ward off detriment. This may be because the sun rises in the East and may welcome new beginnings and the light from the witch ball may scare away detrimental or harmful energy.

2. A bit of history

Witch balls gained popularity in Medieval Europe. Depending on the region holistic practitioners, or witches, would bless them to ward off evil from the home and in other regions witch balls were filled with bright colors to attract a witch. When the witch would touch the ball her power would be captured by the glass strands or web and the community as a whole would be safer.

3. Something smells fishy

And it’s the witch balls. In Cape Cod fisherman have traditionally tied witch balls to their nets in order to ward off evil spirits that ride the waves of the high seas.

4. Filled with herbs

During the 18th century many Christians would fill their witch balls with herbs such as costmary and frankincense and myrrh to ward off evil and witchcraft.

5. Well, that’s… peculiar

A witch ball from the 17th century was found in the UK with hair, fingernails, carpenter nails, and for some reason even urine inside. It was opaque and needed to be x-rayed to actually found out what the contents were inside. The reason behind this witch ball was to actually throw the spell back as the witch. The urine was to slow and confuse the flow of the spell while the nails were supposed to get in the way and frustrate the witch. Isn’t that um, detailed?


If you need a few right now:

Or if you need something a little more detailed:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Soup for a Storm

For Christmas dinner this year, we decided that since the kids are all vegetarians, rather than cook 2 meals, we should just celebrate with some delicious vegetarian options.  Maryanne always makes a huge batch of stuffed shells, so we asked Molly to choose something else - preferably without pasta.  Looking through recipes that have been saved from long ago email lists (and PLEASE, if this is your recipe, please let me know.  We have an idea, but ...), she chose this soup.  Between the 2 households, we have made this at least 6 times in the last month.  It is that delicious.  You need a large (2 gallon minimum) soup pot for this - or alter the recipe to make a smaller batch.
It freezes beautifully, is acceptable to most special diets, and is very hearty.  I make it with a lot of cayenne, Maryanne uses a lot less.  I add other spices, she does not.  Versatile.  We like that.

It's about to dump a lot of snow here (maybe), so I'm putting together another batch to have on hand.

Here's the recipe:

Spicy Tomato Lentil Bean Soup
1 large diced onion
1 or 2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 nice big sweet red bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 large cans diced tomatoes
1 large (48 oz) carton chicken or vegetable broth
3 cups lentils, (pre-cooked - I simmer them in water while cutting up the onions  and peppers... maybe a little longer.)
2 large cans of any kind of beans (kidney, romano, garbanzo, butter, whatever you like - well rinsed
1 bunch kale (or collards)
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
2 bay leaves
1  to 3 tsp. cayenne
Parmesan cheese
for garnish/flavoring
Heat olive oil in large soup pot.  Add diced onions and cook 2 minutes to soften but not brown.
Add garlic and stir, cooking another minute. 
Add diced red peppers and cook 5 minutes, stirring often.  
Add tomatoes and juice.  Cook and stir...
Add in broth and bay leaves.
Add cayenne, stir.
Add lentils and beans, stir well.
Add in the balsamic vinegar.
Chop the well rinsed kale into bite-sized pieces and add that to the pot and stir.
The mixture should be at nearly a boil, so lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove bay leaves.
Use stick blender or regular blender to puree about 1/3 of the soup.
I have pictured canned beans, tomatoes, and broth.  By all means, if you prefer dried beans, your own canned or frozen tomatoes, and your own homemade broth, please use them.  Just know that there's a chance that you'll love this soup so much that what you've stored away will not last very long :-)

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Lavender Scented Bookmarks


I discovered a few handmade bookmark tutorials that I thought would be perfect to make for my mother’s Christmas present. I decided I would rework a few of them to include herbs inside the stitches so with each turn of the page she would have a whiff of lavender. Here are two ways I learned how to make lavender (or any herb, really) scented bookmarks.

Tie Bookmark (with or without charm)

This is a nice one because you can dress the bookmark up or down depending on your or your gift recipient’s needs. There is a little sewing experience necessary but if I can manage I’m sure you can make a stunning literary accessory!

You will need:
Lavender flowers
Needle (thin is best if the tie is silk so you avoid tearing)
Thread (again, thin)

15 or 20 minutes

Cut a section, about four to six inches, from the thinnest part of the tie. Sew one end shut. I use a back stitch so it will be a stronger seam without tearing.

Use a normal stitch to reinforce the stitch where the ends of the ties meet in the middle so your lavender buds don’t fall out.

Fill the tie with lavender, as much or as little as you would like.

Sew the other end with the back stitch.

Optional Charm Attachment:

Use ribbon or embroidery thread to attach the charm on one end and sew the other end to the tie’s end. I used old jewelry pendants.

Voila! Now you have a sweet gift for the literary enthusiast in your life!

No-Sew Bookmark

If you haven’t noticed I am not the best seamstress but I continue sewing despite protests from my loved ones. If you are as talented as I am with a needle and thread or simply do not have the supplies available here is a no-sew solution.

You will need:
Lavender flowers

About ten minutes


Cut where the tie becomes thinner toward the other side of the garment, about 14 inches from the tip.

Tuck in cut edge so it will not fray.

Fill tie with lavender buds. I used about 2 tablespoons but you will want to use your own discretion so it does not overwhelm you with the scent.

Once it is filled tie the cut side into a knot.

Now you can enjoy a relaxing lavender scented afternoon with a good book!

Posted by Molly Sams


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