Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sizzling July/August '17 Issue is Out!

Our newest issue went into the mail a few days ago and we saved one just for you!  Visit The Essential Herbal and sign up today!  Here's the new cover and what you'll find inside:
Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
We’re zipping around, hitting festivals, and getting in some time to teach the things we love. Remembering why we do what we do!
About the cover—this winsome view of a blooming prairie on the cover has been painted by Aimee Bungard.
Angelica, Dr. Sharon Hagemann
Learn about this “giant, bold relative of parsley.” Culinary, growing, lore and medicinal information.
Growing with Kathy, Seasonal Maintenance, Kathy Musser
Organizing your gardening chores so you can enjoy your garden.
Lessons on Stewardship: Chinquapins, Chiggers, and Indian Pipes, Ruth Davis
Sometimes the natural world can communicate very clearly. We just need to listen.
Sangria and Toast, Rita Richardson
Perfect for those warm evenings after finishing in the garden, watching the world go by…
Six Herbs and Spices for a Cooler Summer, Marcy Lautanen Raleigh
“…when you’re feeling the summer heat, try adding these six herbs and spices into your diet, proven to actually cool down your body!”
Marvelous Marshmallow, Kristine Brown
All about this fabulous, soothing plant.
Summer Crafts, Tina Sams
Try one of these projects this summer.
The Ups and Downs of Trademarking, Angela M. Dellutri
Ever think about protecting your ideas legally? Read on…
List Article, Cold Teas
What are our favorite herbal blends for the hot months of summer? Here are ours.
Summer Soap Soiree, Marci Tsohonis
One phrase… “Champagne Hot Process Soap.” Okay???
Sweet Annie, Sandy Michelsen
Of all the artemisias, this fragrant, finely cut variety is a favorite of many.
Pestos and Pastas, Jackie Johnson
Dinner from the garden. Create your own pasta and the sauce to go with it.
Cheese Ball Pops, Sarah Liberta
Bite-sized treat on a stick.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SummerReads Sale!

Summertime is here and with it, afternoons in the hammock reading and snoozing.  All of our PDF's of back issues and books are on sale (25% off!) through the month of June.  This does not include subscriptions.
Use the code: SummerReads upon checkout, and the discount will be automatically deducted.



The reading is pure pleasure, and you'll learn without even noticing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Troches - Little Cakes

Earlier today I made a batch of troches because I needed to be sure about a recipe that's going in a book that will be debuted at a festival next week.  I wanted to share Kathleen's website, but it isn't there anymore.  So here's the article from the magazine with my pictures added.
Just need to make up a label to be sure and list all ingredients and date.
Historic Herbal: Troches
From The Essential Herbal Magazine, Sept/Oct ‘10
by Kathleen Setzer
 Their Purpose
Known as Troches, or in Latin as Placentula 'little cakes' after their finished shape, these handy herbal lozenges have an impressively long history. Troches were created to allow powdered herbs to be carried lightly, kept fresh longer and to slowly dissolve within the mouth when taken. The intent of dissolving made troches particularly useful for ailments related to the respiratory system and irritations of the mouth. Troches were also used in remedies that called for a slow release of the herbs that made up the lozenge.
A Brief History
Some of the earliest surviving documentation of troches come from ancient Rome, particularly from the work of prolific physician and philosopher, Claudius Galen. In these works, Galen shares much of his own knowledge as well as preserving the knowledge from students of Hippocrates from the 4th century B.C.E. to Greek physicians of the 1st century C.E. Praised in a variety of medical texts from the days of Galen in the 2nd century until the modern era where they are still used by compounding pharmacists, the troche has long proven it's worth.
Method of Preparation
The preparation of troches has not changed much over the years, though modern presses and cutters can be used if you don't wish to flatten the paste by hand. Below is an explanation of how to prepare troches.
Ingredients all ready to turn into powder.
- First, powder herbs for your troches
  (Create as fine a powder as you possibly can. Try using a coffee grinder to speed up the process.)
- Sieve the powdered herbs to remove larger pieces
- Begin a mucilage the night before you intend to make your troches

Tragacanth mixed with water and rose geranium hydrosol.
 (See directions for making a mucilage below)

- Add the powdered herbs to your mucilage to form a thick paste
A touch of honey, a sprinkle of stevia, and some of the mucilage turn this into dough.

- Roll a bit of the paste into a small ball between your palms
- Flatten each ball with your fingertips
- Leave the flattened disks out on a surface where they can evenly dry undisturbed for at least two days 
We'll flip these tonight, and then again tomorrow morning.  They'll be dry in a day or two.

- Take precautions to avoid mold by making sure your troches have even exposure to air
- Store the finished troches in a pot for later use
Making a Mucilage
Historically, mucilage was made with a number of different ingredients that basically boil down to two things: a liquid and a thickening agent. The liquids used included things such as: rose water, distilled water, orange flower water, wine, juice of plantain, juice of liquorice, syrup of violets or even purslane water depending on the intent of the recipe. The thickeners used included gum arabic, gum tragacanth, mucilage of quince seeds and agarick.
The easiest mucilage for experimenting will be 1/4c of distilled water and 1/8 tsp of gum tragacanth. With this mucilage you can easily add in a few tablespoons of dried, powdered herbs to practice making troches. Find gum tragacanth HERE
Choosing Your Herbs
As you choose the herbs to create troches, keep in mind what you intend to use them for and keep the mixture simple. Try to choose herbs that will taste good together, and remember that you may want to add sugar or honey to sweeten your troches once you get an idea of how the final product will taste. Chose a modern combination of herbs from below as a starting point. Based on your knowledge of herbs and safety, you can easily be creative from there.
- Lemon Balm, for soothing abrasions in the mouth and lightening one's mood.
- Liquorice and Horehound, to reduce rough coughing during a cold.
- Linden and Lavender, to ease a cantankerous disposition and soothe the nerves.
A Historic Redaction
A combination adapted from a recipe attributed to Servillius Damocrates, this type of troche was traditionally regarded as warming to the heart.
1 part Saffron
1 part Myrrh
2 parts Roses
A mucilage of gum (arabic or tragacanth) and wine
- Following the directions under the "method of preparation"section, create your troches.

Schulz, V., Hänsel, R., Blumenthal, M.& Tyler, V.E. . (2007). Rational phytotherapy: a reference guide for physicians and pharmacists. McGraw-Hill.
 Green, J. (2000) The herbal medicine-maker's handbook: a home manual. Crossing Press.
 Prioreschi, P. (1998) Roman medicine (a history of medicine). Horatius Press
 Thacher, J., Currie, J. (1831) The american dispensatory, containing the natural, chemical, pharmaceutical and medical history of the different substances employed in medicine. Carey & Lea.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Valerian Blossom Elixir (ala Susan Hess)

 Yesterday my friend Shelley asked about using valerian flowers rather than root.
This is something I've been doing for years because the root tincture makes me jittery instead of relaxed.
I've always done a tincture, but Susan Hess from The Stillroom at Pitch Pines (formerly Farm at Coventry) mentioned that she has been making an elixir with the flowers, and loves it.  Others said that they found the flowers more relaxing than the root (plus the root is hard to dig and clean).
Having all the ingredients, this morning was a perfect time to try this out, and I used the instructions that Sue generously provided. Depending on the herb, sometimes you use more or less honey... a different alcohol... but this is what Sue suggested and oddly enough, I actually followed a recipe for once.

#1 Fill a jar with valerian blossoms.
#2 Add honey to the jar until it is half full

#3 Work the honey around with the blossoms so they're all covered.

#4 Fill jar to the top with brandy.

#5 Mix well to get any air pockets out, and top with brandy again if needed.


#7 Shake mixture every day or so for a month.
#8 You can either leave it as is until you need it, or strain and bottle.

Tomorrow I think it will be lemon balm.
In the meantime, I'm gathering cleavers seeds for another friend. 
This time of year is a lot of fun!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

8 Ways to Love Elderflowers

There are many ways to enjoy elderflowers.  Standing by the tree and enjoying the scent is one of them.  Looking closely at their beauty, and brushing their softness against your cheek is another.  Bringing them inside, you can find so many ways to love this gentle, healing flower.
Elderflower has traditionally been used in skin preparations.  It can also kick a cold to the curb.

1. Elderflower Tea

Just the blossoms steeped in water with a little honey is delicious, but even better to snip a few leaves of mint or anise hyssop to add their flavors.

 2. Elderflower Champagne

Check out the blog post for full instructions from Marita Orr.

3. Elder Blossom Salt Scrub
Fine pink Himalayan salt is nice to use, but any sea salt works.  Table salt works too, but the added minerals in sea salt are nice for your skin.
To the salt, mix one part (by volume) botanicals with ten parts salt.
Add a squirt of lemon juice to keep flowers from browning.
If you have a good blender, grind the salt, flowers, and lemon juice together.
Spread the mixture on a sheet of parchment overnight to dry.
Use about equal parts of salt mixture and an oil. Olive oil is fine, or you can choose something like sweet almond or apricot kernal for a lighter color and feel.
If you'd like to add a scent to this, include no more than 10 drops per ounce.
Or follow these directions using elderflower for a sugar scrub

4. Elder Blossom Cordial
Fill a pint jar loosely with elderflowers.
Add 1/2 lemon.
Pour in 1/2 cup sugar.
Cover with alcohol (I use 150 proof vodka).
Allow to sit and meld together for several weeks, shaking occasionally.

After about a month, taste it and see if it is sweet enough.  If not, add a little more sugar, shake, and allow to rest for another week or two.
Strain, bottle, and label.  Drink on a fine midsummer night.

Add honey instead of sugar for an elixir, and skip any sweetener for a tincture.

5. Granny's Salve

1/2 cup elderflower infused olive oil
1/4 cup nettle infused olive oil
1/4 cup comfrey infused olive oil
1/8 cup (about 2 T) beeswax

You can infuse this oil all at one time by gathering corresponding amounts of herbs, wilting them, and then heating gently in about a cup and a quarter of oil.
Heat together about 1/4 of the oil with the beeswax until the wax melts.  Add the rest of the oil and continue to heat until everything is liquid. 
Pour into jars and label.
For more info on infusing oils and making balms and salves -

6. Elderflower Hair Rinse
This is wonderful if you use a shampoo soap bar and need a little vinegar to close the hair shaft after washing...

4 handfuls fresh elderflowers
2 pints water
2 pints cider vinegar

Boil the elderflowers in the water, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and infuse for an hour.  Strain and add the cider vinegar.  Bottle.  Leave for 48 hours before use.  After washing your hair use a cup of the rinse on the hair.

7. Garden Bath Herbs
Right now, any of these can be found in my yard, and they all make a wonderful soothing bath tea.

wild oats
violets – flowers and leaves
witch hazel

Gather a large handful of those you'd enjoy using - or those that are in your vicinity.
If you have a big muslin bag, fill it with the botanicals.  Otherwise, a tea towel will work.  Place the botanicals in the middle, and leaving plenty of space for the leaves and flowers to swim around, rubberband or tie them inside the towel.

Steep them for at least 15 minutes in a large pan of boiled water. 
Add that water to a drawn bath, and hop in.

8. Elderflower Fritters
Snip umbels of open blossoms, leaving them whole.
Make a thin pancake batter, adding a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and some lemon zest.
Heat oil in a heavy pan.
Dip the umbels into the batter using the stem as a handle.
Place into the pan and fry until golden brown.

Bonus points if you made violet syrup to drizzle on top.  OR follow those directions substituting elderflowers for violets, and make elderflower syrup!

That's closer to a dozen - but you can never love them too much!  Be sure to dry any flowers you don't use.  They can be added to teas or face washes.

Our e-book can tell you many more ways to love this flower - and the berries to follow:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Summertime Teas

Most of my blog entries come about because there is either something I don't want to think about, or something else I am avoiding doing.  This is true again on both counts today.  So today we make tea! 
First up is a tea made from a walk in the yard.  There are several good, tasty options out there right now.  Some I didn't choose would be nettles, sage, mint, and pine or fir tips.  I had a plan, see?
The leaves of raspberry and blueberry made a tasty infusion, so I wanted to base the blend on them.  Here we go...

First stop was the row of black raspberries.  They're starting to form tiny berries.  They must have blossomed last week when we were busy with other things. 
Then the *just* opened-this-very-day-for-the-first-time elder blossoms grabbed me firmly by the nose and dragged me over their way to choose one perfect umbel.
I made my way to the lemon balm and picked a few sprigs.  You may not see that area, though.  It's hard to find the lemon balm through the weeds.  Beside that, there were beautiful leaves from black currant and gooseberry.
On the far end of the yard, the lush and succulent blueberry leaves called.

Headed towards the door, I grabbed two little sprigs of anise hyssop.
 All of it went into the French press.
While it steeped, I put some lemon and blueberries into a quart mason jar.
In the meantime, I chopped the rest of the lemon and put it into the big gallon refrigerator jar, and put more water on to heat. 
 A muslin bag was filled loosely with some flavored green tea.  We've been making gallons of tea a couple times a week this spring, and it is so nice to have it handy and cold.
So here's the verdict.
The Backyard Berry Tea was overtaken by the anise hyssop, but in a very pleasant way.  It will develop overnight in the fridge, and tomorrow Molly will love it!

Now I have to find something else to occupy my mind...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

7 Great Weeds Waiting Outside Right Now

At this time of year, we gardeners look out at the garden and wonder if we'll ever get things in shape again.  In fact, it seems to be early here in our little 6b zone in PA.
Those plants are waiting to help you.  Many of them are delicious edibles, and all of them offer vast quantities of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial properties.  Here's a very short intro.  You CAN learn to love them.


Chickweed has many uses.  It is extremely nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals,  and can be added to soups, stews, egg dishes, and salads.  It makes a fabulous pesto! It is best used fresh, but grows constantly throughout the year in most regions.  I can usually find it beneath the snow if I look in protected areas under trees and shrubs, or against buildings. Many herbalists suggest chickweed for weight loss.  It contains saponins, which may help to bind fats and remove them from the body.
Gail Faith Edwards wrote, “Chickweed has great healing, cooling, drawing, and dissolving abilities.  Try it when you want to bring a boil or pimple to a head, dry up herpes blisters, clean up an infected wound, or extract a splinter.  Applied as a poultice, chickweed stops infection by weakening bacteria cell walls."


This clingy, leggy springtime weed has a lot to offer! It can help clear the lymph system, and we have lymph nodes all over our bodies. It is a diuretic and helps with bladder, liver, and kidney issues, in turn helping with skin issues that result from an overworked liver.  In fact, most of what I've learned is that cleavers is the "spring cleaner" of the body. Don't overlook this weed.  It is best used fresh, so it is commonly tinctured or juiced.


The roots are used to purify blood, cleanse & detoxify the liver, improve digestion and many other conditions.  The whole plant contains high amounts of vitamins and minerals. The flowers are infused in oil to use externally on aches and pains, and the yellow rays are used in wine, jelly, and baked goods.  The leaves are an excellent diuretic that does not pull potassium from the body.  There is a real theme here, isn't there?  In the early spring, the plants help us to get rid of the sludge that we've built up over the winter!

Garlic Mustard

I haven't seen a lot of health benefits attributed to this weed yet, but there are an infinite number of recipes out there on the web with a simple search. Let's face it, pesto makes a LOT of sense with this one!  And it is everywhere. This delicious green has a mild garlic flavor. It is chock full of good stuff, including minerals galore, like potassium, calcium, selenium, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese. Vitamins A and C are in there, and it is one of those precious plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The roots can be processed and used very similarly to horseradish.  As they say... If you can't beat it, eat it!

Stinging Nettles

Ahhh... I daydream about the nettles towards the end of February.  This emerald beauty, though tricky to harvest, has something about it so that when you eat it, you can sense that you have been nourished in a very profound way.  It is one of the herbs that work as a "nourishing infusion" but I like to steam it, add butter, and eat it.  We tincture it particularly to help with spring allergies (and are thankful that it shows up right on time), and dry it for teas.  There are packages of whole leaves in the freezer for meals later in the year.
According to herbalist Susan Evans, "Nettle is very high in iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B complex, A, C, K and chlorophyll. I use it in most of my teas and elixirs; it’s just so darn good for you. It has been used for chronic urinary infections and bladder problems, joint pain, to nourish the nervous system, support bones, relieve exhausted adrenals, lower blood pressure, give you a full, healthy head of hair, and for seasonal allergies. The roots are used to relieve symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia."


In early spring, add some leaves of plantain to your salads, soups, or potherbs. It is high in calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorous, zinc, copper and cobalt and vitamins A, C, and K. It soothes the entire intestinal tract with the mucilage it contains.  Kristine Brown writes, "Medicinally, Plantain is alterative, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anthelmintic, antivenomous, astringent, expectorant, decongestant, demulcent, deobstruent, depurative, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, hemostatic, kidney tonic, ophthalmic, mucilaginous, refrigerant, restorative and vulnerary."
We use it constantly for stings from bees, spiders, and bugs, or for plant rashes (like when we're harvesting nettle).

Raspberry leaves

Our local wild raspberries are black raspberries.  The leaves make a delicious herbal tea AND they have pretty much the same benefits that we've learned apply to red raspberries - such as being a tonic for the female reproductive system, a cooling herb for hot weather, and for relieving stomach pain. It's been used for mouth sores and gum issues, too. Lots of magnesium, potassium, iron, and B vitamins!

That's a good start, isn't it?  As the days go on, there will be more and different weeds coming to help us.  In fact, if you look at the right hand corner of the raspberry picture above, you'll see jewelweed starting to put out true leaves.  Our helpers and allies are everywhere.


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