Monday, March 23, 2020

Plan B - We're Changing!

In June of 2001, we started gathering subscriptions for the new magazine, which would come out in January of 2002. But first came 9/11 and all extra spending stopped for a month or two. Our launch was stunted compared to the initial indications.  My partners bailed, but I persevered.

Time rolled along, and then in August of '05 Katrina hit NOLA. Magazine subscriptions were the last thing on people's mnds, and for a couple of months I held my breath and scrapped together money to print another issue.

In 2008, there was another hit, as everyone knew at least one person who lost their job. Maybe it happened to you. Every few days I checked to be sure the website was still functioning.

So here we are with the COVID-19 virus, and we're looking at anywhere from a couple weeks to 18 months of social distancing, people out of work, and a worrisome economy.

I already announced in the current issue that we'd be switching to PDF in a year. A lot of you went ahead and switched over early. That timeline has to change.

The May/June issue will go to the printer at the end of the week (unless I hear otherwise from them), and it will be the last PRINTED issue.

The website has already been changed over. We will pro-rate pre-purchaed subscriptions. We are planning to do something special on the months that are not an issue months (Jan, Mar, May, July, Sept, Nov are issues). It could be a lot of different things, but the in person interviews might not happen for a while. Advertisers will get mentions in the off month offerings.

Honestly, I've been here before (more than once) and don't have the reserves to continue printing after this issue. But we will still put out a great magazine and I hope you'll stick with us!

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Essential Herbal March/April 2020 Issue

 We've got another great issue out!  It's full of good stuff, just verging on spring. 
Check it out:
Cover Photo, Jen Frey
Walking with the Redwoods

Herbal Lingo Crossword
We use some unusual words.
Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
Nothing stays the same forever, but maybe it can be even better.               
Pollinator Gardens, Jackie Johnson
Help the pollinators with beautiful plants.                                                         
Schisandra Knows What You Need, Tina Sams
This very unusual berry is a very versatile adaptogen.                                   
My Other “Herb” Garden, Rebekah Bailey
The birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees…                               
Cottage Gardening, Kathy Musser
How to design a cottage garden, and perfect flowering plants to include.  
Puzzle Solution                                                                                                     
Osha Root, Sandy Michelsen
Bear Medicine is another name for this “at risk” root.
Scentimental Favorites, Alicia Allen
Growing herbs for flavor and scent.                                                                   
Damiana Love Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Love is for every day, and so is this soap
French Cousins, Rita Richardson
Try chervil and sorrel for some new flavors.                                                     
Creative & Tasty Approach to Treating Allergies, Tony(a) Lemos           
An eco-spiritual approach to working with some surprising allies.
My Top Springtime Uses for Vinegar, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh               
Freshen up the house with some citrus and vinegar.
Book Excerpt, Herbalism at Home, Kristine Brown                                      
Anxiety Tea Blend from the book!
Artemisia Herb, Barbara Steele
A description of several varieties, and several tarragon recipes.                  
Meet Our Contributors


I've looked at clouds...

Forever ago, when my sister and I were renaissance herbalists at the faire 4 months out of the year, we met a lot of interesting people. One day when most everyone was at the end-of-day joust, a woman stood out front of the shop with us and told us how she "read" clouds. That day had an expressive sky, including the sunbursts through holes in clouds (which she called God skies) and lots of majestic imagery. It was fascinating, particularly since I love to watch the sky.

At this house, I can see all of the sky. Tonight after dinner I went out to take in the evening breeze. The sky was amazing.
I thought maybe I'd give it a try to see what the sky had to tell me, but looking around, it struck me that it would be pretty difficult. First on the left (east) the clouds showed vivid movement.
Straight ahead to the south, there was a little more light but enough darkness to be "stormy."
To the west, the sky was beginning to break up and let some light and color through.  The clouds are swoopy and have a watery appearance, like perhaps there are small fish in a school among seaweeds or sea birds. 
But then, I remembered that one of my favorite activities when the weather is warm, is to throw back my head (or even better, lie on my back and look at nothing but sky) and watch the swirling madness.
It can become overwhelming and almost oppressive.  There have been times when it has become frightening in the utter endlessness, making it feel almost difficult to breathe.
It can be incredibly relaxing to feel separate from the world for a moment, and let my mind flow with the clouds, releasing any worries or concerns.  Today, right now, that was a good thing.
Finally, looking back down, the sky was breaking up.  At first glance, there was a giant heart.  Then it was a happy, fluffy dog running to the left and turning to look back.  You probably see other things too.

At first I thought, "well there's no message here." 
Then I realized that I had to look in so many different directions to see all the things that are going on that there's no way to take it all in.  It's just beyond human comprehension.
And so it is with life at this moment in time.  We're all filled with uncertainty, varying degrees of concern - or outright fear, and there's plenty of anger and loneliness out there, too.

So let's keep our eyes open and looking around.  Be sure and look for good things and good people.  Look out for others when you can, and always keep an eye on the other end of the tunnel.  We'll get there.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Elderberry - New Research.

Since there just isn't enough confusion about elderberry on line right now (that's a joke, btw), I thought I'd throw this article into the mix :-)

Elderberry Toxicity

Rebekah Bailey
The Essential Herbal Nov/Dec 2019

Writing this particular article proved to be one of my more interesting writing experiences.  I had completed and submitted it, only to have a series of events unfold in the following couple of days which required Tina and I to discuss a re-write. 

In a serendipitous turn of events, only hours after reviewing my article, Tina was approached by an elderberry farmer who mentioned new research being conducted on elderberry toxicity.  As a result, I was able to run down and interview Andy Thomas, a research professor with the University of Missouri Southwest Center. He shared with me details of an elderberry toxicity research project, due to be published in the coming months. I will begin with the currently accepted information on elderberry toxicity, and then follow up with what I learned from Thomas.

Conventional wisdom regarding elderberries has been they are toxic when raw, and that the cyanide producing compound in them is neutralized with heat.  Elderberry branches, stems, leaves, and seeds contain potential cyanide in the form of cyanogenic glycosides. When ingested, these glycosides react with an enzyme, beta-glucosidase, and hydrolyze, releasing hydrogen cyanide. Elderberries aren't the only food containing cyanogenic glycosides: Lima beans, flax seed, almonds, apple seeds, cherry and plum pits, apricot and peach pits, cassava (the source of tapioca), spinach, peas, soy, and bamboo shoots.  However, I don't see anyone loosing sleep over eating spinach and lima beans ... ummm, well, maybe if you don't like those vegetables.
Exposure to small amounts of cyanide can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. Exposure to larger amounts can cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, and respiratory failure. How much ingested cyanide is toxic to human beings? Well I couldn't find an exact number, but one source cited 98 mg in one day (and stated the lowest documented lethal dose as 37.8 mg), and the John Hopkins Center for Health Security cites 100-200 mg when ingested as sodium or potassium cyanide.  Another source cited "0.5-3.5 mg/kg bw. Approximately 50-60 mg of free cyanide constitutes a lethal dose for an adult man."  The human body is able to clear small amounts of cyanide through the liver involving a molecule called thiosulfate, and if enough tiosulfate is not present, then cyanide poisoning occurs.  Taking this into account, it stands to reason that poisoning will vary from person to person, depending on body weight, fasting/non-fasting, and individual metabolic factors.

Having a general idea of how much cyanide is lethal, the next question is how much cyanide can you find in elderberry? I could only find a couple of sources, which both stated 3mg per 100 g of fresh berries, and up to 17mg per 100 g of fresh leaves.  However, when I followed up with both articles' source material, Assessment Report on Sambucus nigra L., fructus by the European Medicines Agency, I could find no such numbers.  What the report did state was that information regarding the level of cyanogenic glycosides in the fruits and seed was not available.  Of the two sources I found, one came to the conclusion that it’s inconclusive just what the concentration of cyanogenic glycosides found in the berries and flowers.  If you were to go by the amount of 3 mg, then it would take eating approximately 3 pounds of raw elderberries to get a toxic dose of cyanide.

Here is where the new Missouri University elderberry study becomes relevant.  The University, working in conjunction with several state agencies and farmers, have been exploring elderberry as a commercial crop. A range of different studies have been conducted and written about, the most recent focusing on the toxicity issue. 
Photo by Susan Hess
The study focused on American Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis), which is a different species than the European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).  Thomas referenced another study which established that cyanogenic glycosides in American Elderberry are lower than those found in the European Elderberry. The toxicity study only encompassed the edible berries, and did not include the leaves, stems, and branches. Tested were ripe berries, red/under-ripe berries, green berries, and pedicels (tiny stems that attach berries to the umbel). Thomas stated that they even had a student who painstakingly separated skin, seeds, pulp, and juice of berries, so the individual parts could be tested for glycosides.  Using the levels of cyanogenic glycosides found in commercial apple juice as a benchmark, the study found that all parts of the raw elderberry – green, red or ripe – contained lower levels of glycosides than commercial apple juice.  The study also examined the levels of beta-glucosidase found in elderberries.  Cyanogenic glycosides in elderberries represent a potential for cyanide, but only convert to cyanide if reacted with beta-glucosidase. The study found there were insufficient quantities of beta-glucosidase to convert the glucosides to cyanide.

The study concluded that the raw berries of the American Elderberry were as safe, if not safer, than commercial apple juice because 1) cyanogenic glycoside levels were extremely low, and 2) insufficient quantities of beta-glucosidase were present to convert any glycosides to cyanide.

The good news is that it doesn't matter if we know the exact levels of glycosides in elderberry.  What matters is that we know that cyanide evaporates at a temperature of a little over 78°F (26°C).

I found a pretty comprehensive study of the effects of heating on cyanogenic glycosides, which was informative, and reassuring.  In the study, bitter apricot seed was boiled in water for 15 minutes, resulting in a 98% reduction in glycosides.  Bamboo shoots were down 91% after 15 minutes of boiling, and no detectable traces were found after 60 minutes of boiling.  Cassava boiled for 20 minutes was down by 97%, and only trace glycosides were found after 35 minutes.  Flax seed was dry heated for 15 minutes, resulting in only a 10% reduction in glycosides.  The study referenced previous studies of dry heating which resulted in only 16-18% reductions, and concluded that dry-heating did not reduce cyanide content effectively.

I’d like to add one little side note, not related to toxicity, but relevant to heating elderberries.  There are a few studies which have examined the effects of heating elderberry.  One such study found “short-time heat treatment reduces potential allergy-related risks deriving from elderberry consumption without seriously affecting its properties as an antioxidant and free-radical scavenging food.”  Another study indicates gentle heating may render the polyphenols in elderberry more bioavailable, but this particular aspect is still controversial, and needs additional study.

Taking all of this information into consideration, my personal conclusion is that elderberries are as safe to consume as apples, with or without heating. Care should be taken to remove leaves, stems and branches, and a short 15 minute gentle simmer shouldn’t adversely affect the beneficial properties of the berries. While not the tastiest raw berries I’ve sampled, when checking my bushes this afternoon, I didn’t hesitate to pop a handful of elderberries into my mouth.

Editor's Note:  For the first 10 years of herbalizin' I didn't heat the berries before tincturing.  Then, after having zero problems in all that time, as far as stomach problems, the internet terrorized me into cooking them first.  Now I will say that heat releases their juice more easily - so that is one benefit.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wild and Free Food - Wild Foods for Every Table - free download

In addition to the recipes I posted yesterday, I decided to make the PDF of this (long out of print) book available.  Just knowing a few greens and roots can make a huge difference when times are tough.  They're full of nutrients. 
Click on the link to go to the page on the website, and then download from there.  There is no need to give any information at all.  No email, no name - nothing.  Just download the book.

Be well.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Wild and Free Food - Pestos

Pestos add flavor and nutrients to things like pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, or even soups and stews.

When you think of pesto, it is usually the flavor that comes to mind.  Maybe after that, you think about how easy it is to whip up a last minute meal without heating up the kitchen in the summer.  We mostly think about Basil, but many other herbs can be used.  Rarely do most of us think about the immense health benefits derived from these herb pastes, but we really should.  It can go on pasta, you can slather it on a sandwich, add a dollop to soups, or use it as dip.  Pesto is an easy food to eat in a lot of different ways.

Earlier this year, I was trying to think of pleasant ways to eat more raw garlic during cold and flu season.  This is really a subject that has confounded me for many years since garlic was not a typical ingredient in the PA German fare of my childhood.  It is an ingredient that I at first struggled to acquire a taste for and eventually came to enjoy.  Still, eating raw garlic is one of the simplest ways to kick a virus, and when I realized that pesto was not cooked, it was a revelation for me.

Here are some of the reasons that pesto is more than just a sauce:


- Incredible healing powers that help to prevent influenza, colds, yeasts and fungus and contains antiseptic, antibiotic, antiviral, bactericidal, and anti-inflammatory properties.  After watching my daughter go through over a week of the nasty, wheezing, upper respiratory virus this winter (after refusing all offers of my herbal concoctions), naturally, I started coming down with it.  Over the course of a day and a half, I ate about 2 full bulbs of garlic and was quickly on the mend.  You could smell me coming, but at least I wasn't sick.


- All of the culinary basils (and of course holy basil as well) work hard against inflammation. Basil is rich in anti-oxidants that combat aging and support the immune system and can combat stress, help with upper respiratory illnesses, battle headaches, or calm the stomach and improve digestion.   

Walnuts (who can afford pine nuts anymore?) - Walnuts contain both monounsaturated fatty acids and Omega 3 essential fatty acids to promote healthier arteries and cholesterol levels, helping to possibly prevent strokes and heart disease.  They contain very high levels of antioxidants and are packed with the B Complex vitamins, tons of beneficial minerals, and vitamin E.

Olive Oil - Bolsters immune system and helps to fight viruses.  Consuming olive oil mproves bone mineralization and calcification. It helps calcium absorption.  There are many long term benefits to olive oil.

Many other herbs can be blended into pastes.  They don't have to be single, they can be blends like Basil and Chickweed, Sage and Nettles, etc., but do consider some of these benefits:


Thyme is a rich source of nutrition, even in small quantities.  It is a treasure trove of vitamins C, B6, K, and A, riboflavin, iron, copper, manganese, calcium, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.  One compound, Thymol is one of a naturally-occurring class of compounds known as biocides that can destroy harmful organisms like bacteria, microbes, and viruses. Combined with other biocides, such as carvacolo (also in thyme), it has strong antimicrobial power and displays significant anti-oxidant protection of cellular membranes.  


- Sage is an amazing source of several B-complex vitamins, including folic acid, thiamin, pyridoxine and riboflavin.  Lots of the vitamins C and A, plus minerals like potassium, zinc, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.  Highly anti-inflammatory, sage is a powerful herb for people with conditions caused by or worsened by inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and atherosclerosis.


Packed with vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, silicon, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, protein sodium, copper, carotenes, and vitamins B and C, chickweed also has saponins that help with joint inflammation.  


tannic acid, lecithin, chlorophyll, iron, silica, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, and vitamins A and C.  Some of the talents Nettles bring to the table include being diuretic, astringent, pectoral, anodyne, tonic, styptic, nutritive, anti-rheumatic, anti-allergenic, decongestant, expectorant, anti-spasmodic, and anti-histamine, herpetic, galactagogue, and an anti-histamine. Grinding the herb to paste takes the sting away without destroying the valuable components.

Violet Leaves 

There are lots of vital minerals, especially calcium and magnesium available in the leaves.  The leaves and flowers contain Rutin, a bioflavonoid that is helpful in the treatment of venous insufficiency and lowered blood flow to various parts of the body.  Specifically, hemorrhoids and varicose veins may respond to consuming violet leaves.  The leaves especially contain saponins and mucilage, having a positive effect on regularity of elimination, lung health, and can soothe the entire gastro-intestinal and urinary tracts.  

Simple Basil Pesto Recipe

Put the following directly into the food processor:
1 Cup basil leaves
5 - 6 cloves of Garlic
1 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 Cup Walnuts
1/4 Cup olive oil
Process until smooth.   

Wild and Free Food - Greens Soup

I made a small batch of soup early last week.  It is delicious, but not terribly photogenic!

It lasted through 3 meals, which is plenty for me, but if you have a family to cook for, this recipe is very flexible, so double or triple it for your crowd.  If you're interested in learning more about wild foods and how to get them onto the table, this recipe is almost foolproof and so delicious that it will please a lot of people who wouldn't normally *voluntarily* eat weeds. You might also want to check out our book - Wild Foods for Every Table.

This particular pot of soup contained a couple of cheats.  Sometimes the plants show up when we haven't prepared.  I used bouillon and instant potatoes for the base.  You may certainly use the real thing instead!  This was a spur of the moment, thrown together thing - which is part of the beauty of food just coming up out of the ground, unbidden!
Potatoes are rarely in the house, and a $1 bag of instant can last a month or two because it's only used in soups.  There is NEVER enough broth around here.  The soup was spectacular.  Here we go...
Starting on the left, chickweed, cheese, mushrooms, nettles, and wild onions down the center.
1 quart stinging nettles
2 cups chickweed
3 or 4 wild onions
1 pint mushrooms (any kind)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 large bouillon cube - chicken or vegetable
1/2 cup instant mashed potatoes
Splash of olive oil
6 cups water

First, a walk around the yard,  The nettles are up about 3 or 4 inches, and are growing thickly.  It took no time to gather a quart of them.  No onions in the house, so I grabbed a few wild onions/garlic.
stinging nettles
~Inside, rinse the greens, pick through them, and then chop them up a bit with kitchen shears. 
~Peel the onions and chop finely.
~Put oil into a 2 qt pan, and LIGHTLY saute the onions. Add mushrooms.
~If needed, use a little more oil.
~Add 2 cups water with the bouillon when the mushrooms are a releasing some liquid and softening. Heat on medium high until it starts to simmer.  In the meantime...
~Mix the instant potatoes into remaining quart of water and pour into the pan.
~When it starts heating up, dump in the greens.
~As soon as the broth starts a light boil and the greens soften, use an immersion blender until most (but not all) of the mushrooms and greens are blended.  If you don't have an immersion blender, put about 1/2 of the soup into a blender until smooth.
~Add the cheese and stir.  Use additional cheese as a garnish. 
~I had some leftover chicken that went in at the end.  Croutons would be delicious too.
Chickweed (about 4x life size)
All in all, this was probably 1/2 an hour from yard to table, and it was really good. 
There were a couple other greens out today.  In the next month or so, the selections will be too many to list.
Hairy Bittercress

Ground Ivy (among many names)
Red Dead Nettle
All of these can be used, as well as garlic mustard, plantain, daylily leaves, dandelion leaves, violet leaves, clover, and on and on...  You CAN even use domesticated vegetables, if you like :-)

Wild and Free Food - Dead Nettle or Purple Archangel

Another for the Wild and Free Food Gathering...

This recipe was shared in The Essential Herbal magazine last spring.

Purple Archangel (Dead Nettle) Enchiladas
Jamie Jackson of

 Sauté 1.5 quarts purple archangel for 20 minutes in a broth while making enchilada sauce:
 This is the base recipe, I usually triple it.

1/4 C oil
1/4 C flour (I use GF)
1/2 t black pepper
1/8 t salt
1 t garlic powder
2 t cumin
1/2 t oregano
1 T chili powder
Less than 2 cups of water (you can use broth, but don't add salt)
Cheese for sprinkling on top (a cup or so)

Make just like a gravy.  Fry the flour and spices in oil for a few minutes.  Slowly add the liquid, stirring constantly.  A flat wooden spatula is nice to continuously scrape the bottom of the pan. Simmer on low, till the consistency of enchilada sauce out of can (not thick like gravy, you will be cooking this again.)
Cover thickly the bottom of your pan with the enchilada sauce.

Heat corn tortillas on a hot cast iron comal for a few seconds until they wilt over the side when slid to the edge (usually 11 seconds one side 3-4 seconds the 2nd side.)  Keep them warm in a towel.

Mix 1/4 cup of your enchilada sauce into your cooked greens and stir. 

Put a tortilla on a cutting board, cover the surface with enchilada sauce using a spoon.  Put green filling in the middle along with any shredded cheese, wild chives or whatever else.

Roll up, put in pan on top of the enchilada sauce.  When done, completely smoother with the rest of the enchilada sauce and top with some grated cheese.

Picture from Old El Paso - where you can find many other recipes.
 Put in the oven till the cheese is melted.  I do mine on the stove top in a massive wok.  I can get about 8 enchiladas in there. I put the flame on low and cover.  I keep peeking till the cheese on top is melted and you are done!
If I think I've smothered the enchiladas enough, I save some of the sauce off for dipping.  Also, if the sauce gets too thick, even if you have the enchiladas already in it, you can add a wee bit of water and sort of stir it with a fork.
This is enough for 8 enchiladas, plus enough for dipping with chips