Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pygmalion and Galatea

This might not seem herbal, but I'll get to that eventually :-).
The oil painting of Pygmalion and Galatea was created by Jean Leon Gerome around 1890. The first time I ever saw it, we were visiting friends in NYC (see LittleBigVoice in the blogroll), and a large print was in their living room. For 3 days, I was transfixed with the image. Many times, paintings and pictures convey a feeling or thought, but for some reason, this one is soul wrenching.
The painting depicts Pygmalion, King of Cyprus, who in abject loneliness sculpts his ideal woman from ivory. Aphrodite brings her to life with an arrow.
We returned home, and the image haunted me until that following holiday season there was a print under the tree with my name on it. It hung in our dining room until my daughter told me it bothered her. Nudity in the dining room, pre-teen embarrassment... ok, it went to my room.
The image is about longing, but it represents so much more to me.
When I look at it, I see how we each in our own way, sculpt our lives. We take what we have and chip away or add to, until it is what we want or need.
Take the garden, for instance. We take a place that may be barren - or overgrown, and within that space create something that was only present in our mind's eye. All of life is filled with this passion and yearning. We learn to make things from the plants we grow. Some of us enjoy cooking, some make medicine, some wreaths and potpourris, soaps, and toiletries. No matter what it is, we are all taking a "lump of clay" and changing it into something we only see inside or feel in our hearts.
It's probably been more than a decade since this image became part of my home. It still moves me each time I look at it, reminding me that reality is of our own invention. What we create changes reality into something it wasn't before.
Personally, of course, I think about the magazine - how it began as a yearning to bring together the herbal community and be able to write regularly, and how passionate our contributors are about what they do. It certainly changed MY reality, and when I read letters from herb newbies, they write about their new-found love of plants. My sister does the same thing with molten glass, visualizing and creating what pleases her, and I am fortunate to be surrounded by a farm that was dreamed in a most beautiful design, and manifested and nurtured by capable hands (and a strong back).
So today, rearranging the things on the wall, it dawned on me that this painting illustrates the very essence of life for nearly all of the people I deal with on a day-to-day basis. They are all dreaming and conjuring their lives, making their own reality as they go. What a fortunate lot we are!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Morning has broken, like the first morning...

Cat Stevens was part of the soundtrack of my youth, and every time there is a particularly beautiful day, the song "Morning has broken" plays in my head as I sit in my office looking out over the acres and acres that stretch before me. Sometime in my late 30's, I was surprised to find the song on the program in a church one Sunday. I liked Cat's version better - more lilting.

On this particular morning, I was possessed with the desire to go find some berries. The blueberries have been giving me a handful each day to nibble on while weeding. There was some discussion on The Essential Herbal Yahoo group the other day about mulberries, and that made me think of the tree just out by the end of the near field. That - of course - reminded me that Bob had mentioned that the raspberries were starting to ripen over on the edge of the next field. So, 6:45, basket in hand, I set out.

Now mulberries are a funny thing. They are so common as to be a nuisance plant around here. The birds feast on them, and splatter cars with the magenta after-effects. The trees pop up everywhere, due to said after-effects. Some people don't even eat them, and I think that is because they are so common.

But to children (my sister excluded - she doesn't like them) they are a miracle! When Molly was a toddler, I could look out the kitchen window, and see a trail of clothing. That meant that I'd find her down by the mulberry tree. She was nothing if not tidy, and mulberries are very juicy. She'd be standing under the mulberry tree naked, eating her fill and singing to herself - smeared with juice from head to toe. The tree would be so laden with fruit that the boughs bent down almost to the ground. The best way to find mulberries is to stand under the branches where the fruit dangles under the leaves.

Just a couple years ago, a city-boy friend, who I happen to know LOVES berries told me he'd never had them. At that particular moment, I spied a tree just across the parking lot and swerved on over to pick some for him to try. They are a much under-rated fruit.
Mulberries can be used like any other berry, but has no tartness, so maybe a few drops of lemon juice might be required for some recipes. The stems are edible. Here's a recipe using mulberries along with other berries...
From Wild Foods for Every Table

Wildberry Slump
from Geri Burgert

1 c fresh ripe wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius)
3 c fresh ripe dark mulberries
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c sugar
1 - 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t salt
3/4 c whole milk
2 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put berries in an ungreased 5 to 6 cup deep-dish pie plate and sprinkle with 3/4 cup sugar.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a bowl. Add milk and butter and stir with a whisk until smooth, then pour over berries.

Bake slump in the middle of the oven until the top is golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a raack and cool 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Along the way this morning, I picked some wild flowers. There is a whole drift of them that were planted last year, and have spread and continued to grow. The coreopsis and blanket flower have done the best, but blue cornflower, flax, heart's ease, batchelor's buttons, yarrow, and poppies didn't do too shabbily either.
It was a glorious stroll. The neighbors weren't up yet, and the dogs didn't notice me. At some point, I rounded a corner and surprised the guinea hens. Sensing the quiet of the morning, they didn't even set up their usual squawking.
There are a couple other flowers I snapped along the way. The first picture is Lupine. These are sweet spires of various colored flowers. Very striking. After a couple of tries with these at the old house, I almost gave up, but these did ok, so maybe we'll have them around. There was a book we used to read at bedtime called "The Lupine Lady" about a woman who lived in a little town, and people thought she was odd and stand-offish. Her main activity was to spread lupine seeds, and at some point in the story the kids wander over the top of a hill and find lupine spires for as far as the eye could see, giving them a different perspective of the old woman.
Lastly is the picture of Blue-eyed Grass. I can distinctly recall the first time I ever saw this plant. It was growing along the side of the road, in a ditch on the dirt road leading to our house in VA. There were so many of them, and the color is so vivid, that I screeched to a halt. I may have screamed too... you'd have to ask Molly. We dug up a little clump to transplant by the door, but (of course) the goats ate them. So this year, Putnum Hill had the plant for sale at Landis Valley, and I scooped one up, feeling like I'd found a box full of sapphires. They've bloomed everyday since they got into the gardens. No goats - hee hee hee.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Making Lavender Wands

Every year we enjoy this craft at The Essential Herbal. It isn't new, and I have no idea where it first came from, but I first saw it in Phyllis Shaudys' book Herbal Treasures. They make nice drawer sachets, and sweet little tie-ons for gifts. Besides, it is such a pleasant way to spend an hour or so in the garden.

We've taken a series of photos to show you how to make your own. If you miss a stem, or it doesn't look quite right, don't fret. It's LAVENDER, for Pete's sake! It's supposed to be relaxing. The first one will probably not turn out very well. Do a second, and you'll see improvement. Also, even though they take longer, it is actually easier to do the ones that have more stems.
To begin, choose an ODD number of stems of lavender. Grosso is a good choice because the stems are long and straight. Let the stems wilt - but not dry. These were left on the counter overnight.

Choose a ribbon to weave. For beginners, try using 1/4" rather than the 1/8" I've used here. You'll need a good yard of it to weave with, and another couple of feet for finishing.
After you've tied the ribbon snugly at the base of the blossoms (use one end of the ribbon to tie, leaving the rest of the ribbon free for weaving), begin bending the stems down over the blossoms. Try to bend them evenly so that they are spaced well. Enclose the short end of the ribbon inside the stems.

You'll wind up with a cage around the lavender flowers.

Begin weaving in and out. It is easiest to lift the stem, and slide the ribbon underneath. The first two rows are the hardest.

When you reach the bottom of the blossoms, it is time to tie it off. You'll find that it gets very confusing as you get to the bottom, because all of the stems are close together.

Cut another length of ribbon, and center the wand on it, tying the leftover weaving end along with the new ribbon. I used a square knot.

Twist one end down to the bottom of the stems.

Twist the other end in the other direction and tie at the bottom.

Add a bow at the top and trim the ends of the stem evenly.
If you don't have the inclination to make one yourself, we have them on our site.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Essential Herbal July/Aug 2007

Another terrific issue is starting to arrive in homes and shops. The deadline fell just 2 days after we arrived home from Baton Rouge, and the magazine almost put itself together. We were thrilled with the variety of articles and recipes. We think you will be too. We've heard from some subscribers nearby (PA and NY) who have already received their copies. Those of you that are further away may not see it for a couple more weeks. There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason for delivery schedule. They all go out at the same time, but the different postal hubs throughout the country (and outside the US) seem to have their own timetables. So sit tight. It will be there by the Fourth of July.

Here's what we have inside:

July/August 2007 Table of Contents

Crossword Puzzle – Welcome Summer!
Field Notes from the Editor – Why do we garden?
Essential Oils and Eczema – Sarah Menefee
Never Enough Thyme – Susanna Reppert
Traveling Herb Seminar to some Herbal Treasures
Book Review – Katherine Turcotte
Botany in a Day: The Patterns of Plant Identification
Down on the Farm – Michele Brown and Pat Stewart
Native Plants in Tennessee
Salads for Summer Sizzle – Susan Evans
Delicious Dining from the Garden
Suburban Herbie – Geri Burgert
Slow State, Taking the Time to Look
Aromatherapy & Essential Oil Quality – Katherine Turcotte
Mountain Mary – Sue Hess
Legendary Healer of Olden Times
Hex Signs – Maryanne Schwartz
A Lesson on the Barn D├ęcor of Lancaster County PA
List Article – What did you wait for all winter long?
An Herbal Garden Party – Betsy May
Recipes for the Perfect Picnic under the old maple tree.
The Pleasures of a Fragrance Garden – Mary Ellen Wilcox
Description of some fragrant plants, and some delightful uses
The Twisted Sisters Ride On – Tina Sams
Our trip to White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge
Louisiana Lagniappe – Sarah Liberta
She named a recipe after the Twisted Sisters!
The Angel’s Plant – Maureen Rogers
Profile and recipes for Angelica
Bloody Marys on a Stick – Maggie Howe
Wild About Food – Kristine Farley
Eating local and wild!
Mother and Child – Pam Ferry
An Herbal Pregnancy, The countdown has begun.
Herb or ‘Erb – Bertha Reppert, submitted by Susanna Reppert
How do you say it?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I found my thrill....

...on blueberry hill.

You may have been following along with my blueberry saga. If so, you may be amused by the shelter we built - we being Molly and me.

The resident FAT groundhog has been eyeing up my berries, and there are legions of birds in the trees, so it was starting to keep me awake at night, worrying about those berries and the tiny plants that won't bear til next year.

I should allow that I am a thrifty person. Ok, ok, I'm cheap. We had some bamboo poles from the bamboo that grows down on the farm, and there was some old bird netting around, so gradually this plan formed in my overactive imagination. The main problem (up until the storm today that brought high winds and hail, that is) was that the bird netting was used before, and was in several pieces. It needed to be "sewn together in places - note the white string. It still needs to have bricks placed around the perimeter, but so far the ground hog has not ventured a try. I did see a bird trying to take some of the netting for a nest. Guess that's where the term "bird-brain" comes from.

Here is one of the plants in fruit. Some of the others won't be ripe for another month or more. Next year....

But alas, the storm came.

A couple of the poles decided that it might be easier to become a lean-to. We went out between storms and took the mallet to them. It is standing once more, but I need to think about this for a bit. Obviously this requires more planning. Or maybe an actual outlay of money.

Let's not talk about this anymore.

They'll be fine until tomorrow, and then I can devote more attention to a bigger and better plan.

Instead, let's move on to some of the plants that look like marijuana here on the property.

The first one is a plant that my mother planted. I don't have a clue what it is. At first, I thought it was a variety of elderberry. There is one with leaves that are cut like this, but as the summer wore on last year, there were no frothy blooms. In late July or August, it started to put out beautiful hibiscus-like flowers in the deepest of reds. There were only a few flowers and only one bloomed at a time, each for just a day or two. In winter, it dies back completely, leaving only a single tawny stalk. The new growth ignores that stalk, and sends out new ones.

Next we have the lovely little vitex tree-to-be. There is a second, larger vitex in the front yard, but neither is large enough to blossom this year. The leaves of these also made my daughter giggle, because they too resemble Marijuana leaves. This little beauty took forever to leaf out this spring, and I was just about to give up on it, thinking it had died. It went into the ground in late October last year, and had been an indoor potted plant that outgrew it's welcome at a friend's house. It has such a lush, beautiful growth habit, I'm happy it made it through its first winter. That bodes well for future winters.

Although this doesn't look like anything illicit I snapped a shot of the pink larkspur. There is deep purple right beside it, but that isn't blooming at the moment. Larkspur is one of my favorite flowers. It doesn't really have a scent that I can discern, and it doesn't "do" anything, but it is such a happy little flower with the lacy foliage, and the stalks of cheerful flowers.

Last but certainly not least, a report on the Mountain Mint that came back on the plane from Baton Rouge in my stuffed suitcase. For several weeks, it looked pretty raggedy. Can't blame it really, being smooshed in there for a whole day, with just a wet paper towel in a baggie. But to my great delight, it has rebounded and is making itself right at home by the railing next to the thyme and tarragon. It is the strongest mint I've ever smelled. Here's hoping there's enough next year to try a distillation! Maggie at Prairieland does a mountain mint distillate, and gets so many raves on it. Either way, it's a beautiful little plant, and very brave to travel so far from home.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wild Blackberry Cordial

This article/recipe is from the Jul/Aug '04 issue of The Essential Herbal. Christie Sarles from wrote it, and it is a recipe that readers have stretched and changed to make all sorts of cordials that include different fruits and herbs.

Wild Blackberry Cordial

This delicious, nutritious, and very simple recipe literally spans the growing season here in northern New England, combining one of the glories of the late summer harvest with the very first taste of early spring. I make it in gallon batches and decant into interesting little bottles for holiday giving, but you can easily make less-- or more!-- using the same proportions of ingredients.

Pick enough berries to fill a clean glass jar in the size of your choice at least a third, and up to a half, full. I use about two quarts of berries for a gallon of cordial. If those lovely wild blackberries don't grow in your neighborhood, you can substitute raspberries or blueberries. The little wild blueberries will give your cordial a more intense flavor than the larger cultivated ones, but either way blueberries are relatively tough-skinned and you will need to macerate them - crush or grind coarsely - before adding the other ingredients.

Fill the jar to the top with equal parts of maple syrup and brandy. I usually use E&J brandy, but any decent variety of 80 proof brandy will do fine. As for the maple syrup, I like the dark, late-season Grade B syrup because it has the strongest maple taste and contains more minerals than the three lighter Grade A syrups produced earlier in the sugaring season. You can use whatever grade of maple syrup you prefer, but please make it real. Don't use the artificial stuff!!

Put the cover on the jar and shake to mix. Label, date, and leave the fruit to infuse for at least 10 days, and up to 6 weeks. Shake occasionally when you think of it. Strain out the fruit (marvelous over ice cream) and decant the cordial into glass jars or bottles. Keeps for years without refrigeration - but I guarantee it won't last that long!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Morning in Early June

From my office window, I see the rolling hills covered with row upon row of conifers. Soon the trimming will commence and the air will be filled with the fresh green scent of the different pines and firs. Balsam and Concolor are closest to the house, and their scents just happen to be my favorites. If you've never smelled the Concolor Fir, its needles have the scent of citrus mingled with pine. It's luscious!

This year we decided to put in a lot of different blueberries, just on the inside of the split-rail fence. I mail-ordered 6, and they arrived as tiny sticks. There will be no berries on those plants this year, so I found a couple of big plants that will bear fruit this year at nearby garden centers. One is almost ready to turn color, and the other will be ripe later in the season, as they are different varieties. I'm keeping an eye out for a few more. They are so good for you, and when I buy the berries my daughter will eat the whole quart in a sitting. I figure the only way I'll ever actually get any to eat would be to grow them myself - enough that she'll tire of them. It doesn't seem right to complain that the child is so enamoured of such a healthy food, so until they are all bearing fruit, I'll be content with some tasty tea brewed up with the leaves mixed with some leaves from the many wild raspberries around here and the rose hips covering the hillside. In the patch, I've also stuck the mountain mint that came home from Baton Rouge (right in front of the one post), and a couple elderberry plants from Possum Creek Herbs in TN, along with a Witch Hazel plant that some resident animal snapped off a few inches up the stem. I think it will survive, though. The Pawpaw tree from Maureen's old yard doesn't look so good. I didn't have the heart to include that in the picture, although the birds love to sit on it and eye the berries as they get ready to ripen. I'm already planning the netting to keep them from getting them all. Anyway, as I looked at the little plot of soil, it crossed my mind that dirt from all over the country had been introduced into this little area. It's a well-traveled little plot.
I'll try to remember to take a shot at the end of summer to compare how they've grown.

The last few days have been intense here on the farm, but all is resolving slowly. We had some rain (finally), and I went out to look around at how well the weeds are doing. Everything has taken a giant leap - including the groundhog, who found the peas and seems to love the tender shoots at the tips of the plants. Grrrr.... The chamomile (German, Matricaria) that I rescued from the nearby construction site has made itself quite at home in the little plot we gave it, and is happily going to seed. Next year there will be enough to distill, I hope.

Next up, a half-barrel bucket of lamb's quarters. Before last year's move to the farm, all of the gardening was done in the buckets. They are still nice for certain things. The saffron bulbs are safe from the bunnies in one of them, and last summer, this particular container held cherry tomatoes and basil plants. It is now filled with my very favorite wild greens, and I've decided to let it go so that they will be easily accessible for salads and cooking. They are another very nutritious wild food, and considering the price of produce this year at the store, they taste better than ever.

Lots of wild greens are coming up. Another month and the raspberries will have me battling through the brush with a pail.

Now it's time to get to work on the mailing so those magazines can hit the post office tomorrow!