Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Debra's Icicle Pickles

(Fall) Memories of Country Pickles
Debra Sturdevant
From the Sept/Oct 16 issue of The Essential Herbal
Illustration also by Debra Sturdevant - The Country Artist
The seasons come, the seasons go. My family is long gone now but memories are well seated. I still live here on my beloved country hill where I spent my youth exploring fields and forests, catching fireflies in mom's Mason jars under the summer stars and sitting with Mom and Dad on the old country porch listening to stories I would carry on.  I still reside here on the hill and prepare for the long northern winter in the same manner my folks did. Dad was the gardener and my mother was the herbalist and  kitchen coordinator pairing their handed down skills to make this old house a home.
In September when I was back in school down in the valley I always wondered what my Mom was creating in her country kitchen as I watched the clock on the classroom wall waiting anxiously for the bus ride home. After what seemed like an eternity of travel on the old dusty roads and endless stops I would arrive at my own long driveway.
The fondest of all my Fall memories is the scent that greeted me emanating through the screen door of sweet and spicy Icicle pickles. I always tried to steal a chunk or two from the old black canner before she packed them  into a lined up army of steaming mason jars. I don't think any other garden harvest can compare to this sweet piece of heaven especially when old man winter arrives. Many folks like to hurry recipes in this hectic day and age but nothing can surpass the flavor rewarded from an old fashioned crock cured pickle that is removed daily to have spices and sugar added then heated sending the most lovely scent of cloves and spices throughout the house. Each Fall I bring a piece of my childhood back through the scent and taste of mom's wonderful pickles I now share with you...

Icicle Pickles
(crisp,spicy, and sweet)

About 24 pickling cucumbers (2gal)
Split, quartered, remove seeds if large.
1. Dissolve 1 pint canning salt in one gallon boiling water and pour over cukes in large enamel pan or crock. Cover and let stand three days
2. Drain and cover with fresh boiling water without salt let stand 24 hours
3. Drain and cover with fresh boiling water with alum the size of an egg. Let stand 24 hours
4. Drain
5. In separate pot mix:
    2 1/2 qts apple cider vinegar
    16 cups sugar
     2 tablespoons pickling spice
     1 teaspoon of whole cloves
     2 sticks of cinnamon
6. Bring liquid to a boil and pour over cucumbers and let stand 24 hours
7. Each of the next four days drain off the liquid, bring to a boil and pour over the pickles. On the fourth day can.
Mom added on the bottom of the yellowed recipe card in her own penciled handwriting "Yum!" and "Yum" they are.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Just Lemon Balm

Just Lemon Balm

Molly Sams
from Jul/Aug '16 Essential Herbal Magazine

When I first began studying herbalism seriously I fell in love with lemon balm.  Interning at TheRosemary House, one day Susanna was explaining to me the different uses and properties of general garden herbs.  When lemon balm came up in the conversation her eyes lit up.  It seemed like she was telling me this wonderful secret and I was thrilled to learn.

She explained that lemon balm never truly dies in the winter. The plant is always growing and if need be you can always dig it up out of the ground and smell that citrusy scent that lemon balm has. This plant has been used to combat symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for its lemony scent and taste.  It has a light, almost sweet taste and it smells absolutely heavenly (especially on a cold winter day).  Susanna described it as almost divine intervention that this plant will always be there for you in the winter.  And from that sentence on I was hooked.

Unlike just about anyone else who has grown lemon balm, my mother and I found it difficult at first. Since we moved to the house on the hill she was completely unable to plant it and keep it alive through the summer.  After hearing about the benefits of winter however, I was determined to make it work.  I took a nice sized plant from Susanna’s gardens (after asking of course) and begin to baby it for a whole summer. Every day I would go out and water it, make sure the dirt was loose and moist, and search for any mean bugs who may need to be relocated to our fields. After a season of babying my lemon balm I let fall and winter take over. Outside it was a constant barrage of cold and I was honestly unsure if the lemon balm would return. On the first warm day I ran out to see if the plant had popped back.  It had - with beautiful deep green leaves and as fragrant as ever. Needless to say a happy dance took place right that moment.

For others lemon balm thrives incredibly well in whatever situation it is in. They like well-drained soil with plenty of room (trust me it’ll grow), but unless you want it taking over every nook and cranny in your garden you may want to keep it contained. Lemon balm is well loved by pollinators. It’s Latin name Melissa (officinalis) actually means bee in Greek.

 Lemon balm is wonderful for those who suffer from SAD but is also incredibly tasty in teas and baked goods. It is used mainly for anxiety, insomnia, and indigestion. Lemon balm is a carminative, diaphoretic, and may reduce a fever. This plant is wonderful to give to little ones and fussy adults when they are sick with a cold or fever. You can also drink a tea after a large meal to fight off the symptoms of indigestion. It may also help you drift off to sleep afterward.  Some find it helpful blended with St John’s wort for nerve issues. 

This plant also has calming affects topically for sores, small wounds and cuts, and even herpes breakouts. Many use a diluted oil or tea to wash the wounds and because it has antibacterial properties have reported faster and/or better healing.  It is not recommended for individuals using thyroid medication.

Many have used the wash for a gentle acne treatment. My favorite way to use lemon balm topically is to mix a drop of oil into witch hazel as a toner.
For those who love history and herbs you may want to try your hand at Carmelite water. Nobles originally used this water after the Middle Ages to increase vigor and maintain a youthful appearance.

The Essential Herbal Magazine’s Carmelite Water
 (For one teapot)

2 t lemon balm
½ t lemon peel
½ t grated nutmeg
1 t angelica root

Steep for three to five minutes and enjoy by itself or with honey.

Lemon balm is an absolutely wonderful little plant that is incredibly strong-willed and still has plenty to show us.

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:


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