Monday, October 29, 2007

A couple of exciting things lately

It's been a whirlwind around here with all sorts of thing swirling in the mists. First frost last night, and it's about time!
More importantly, we have a new writer joining the ranks of regulars at The Essential Herbal, and that is Alicia Grosso, beginning with the Jan/Feb '08 issue. Alicia is probably best known for her book, "The Everything Soapmaking Book", but her knowledge of all things herbal and crafty is going to bring a wonderful new energy to the magazine. She will be bringing us news of interesting techniques, additives, and well... whatever strikes her fancy! You can read her profile (and those of all of our writers) by following this link. We have so many soapers amongst our readers, and many who'd like to try it. In her first article for the magazine, she'll be giving clear, simple instructions for that first batch, along with a couple of recipes. Welcome Aboard, Alicia!

Another great opportunity arose the other day, when we went to The Rosemary House to take a day long seminar with Rosemary Gladstar. I am SO glad we went! For many years, I've been hearing nothing but good stuff about this lady, and of course had read her books. Betsy May, another of our writers, is taking Rosemary's apprenticeship course, and has spoken very highly of her. What one says about her - besides her obvious knowledge - is that she is a kind and gentle soul, inspiring others by sharing information and experiences.
Indeed, that was the woman standing before the crowd. During the course of the day, we were treated to huge gobs of information, delivered in such a way that it seemed more like an intimate conversation. It's difficult to put into words, other than to say that it did not feel like a class. I did not feel like I was "learning". It was more like drinking it in. The handouts were treasure troves of inspiration. The very best part though, was her laugh. At certain times during her presentation, something she said would cause her to remember something that had to do with the subject, and she would allow a pure, clear bubble of laughter to emerge. It was joyous, and made me laugh too.
At the end of the day, she made "longevity balls", a luscious treat made with honey, sesame butter, almond butter, and a vast array of herbs and carob powder. I volunteered to help, although I see that I should probably NEVER wear that shirt again! Yikes.

OH! And I added a new page to the site that shows all display advertisers from the current issue. Check them out! And be sure to let them know you saw them on our site :-).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happy Halloween to Word Fiends

This game sucked me in for more time than I care to acknowledge:
I've got a bunch of things to post, but no time today. Catch you tomorrow!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Taking a Day to Catch My Breath

When an issue of the magazine goes out in the mail, and everything is settled, there is always a day or two where I am completely at loose ends. Yesterday was one. It's the strangest feeling. Instead of needing to finish this task and move on to that one, there is just the blissful nothingness.

Oh, that isn't to say that the slate is completely empty... there is always something. The hostas and shrubs that stunted my perennials this summer need to be moved to a more suitable place. The vacuum cleaner needs to be run, there are some orders to pack and ship, pack for the kid's upcoming trip and find her passport, a couple of herbal projects that need to be done and photographed for upcoming entries... but yesterday, nothing *needed* to be done. It was just me and the day and time. No sound except the birds and the occasional phone call.

At some point, I grabbed the camera and went for a walk. We are still having day-time temps in the upper 60's and low 70's here, warmest October on record for our region, so it's not easy to find Autumn. It is creeping in like a stealth season. Leaves are drying, seed pods forming, but there are few blazes of color marking the way. It reminded me of exactly the same sort of time period I am experiencing right now. The summer is over, so the mad dash to put out flowers is over, and all of the plants are quietly waiting for the onslaught of cold. I could almost feel them asking, "what are we supposed to do now?"

Outside the door, the wave of pineapple sage is vibrant next to the rust colored mums. Yet amidst the dried vines of the clematis, 3 lonely blossoms venture out, unsure if they belong. The grass is still growing and should probably be cut again. The lemon verbena is in bloom, and the all of the blue and purple sages continue to put on a show. The vitex bushes can't decide whether or not to go completely to seed, or to keep putting out flower spikes, and the passionflower vine that couldn't get its act together until September is still giving a weak showing.

The goldenrod is striking among the rows of trees. All of the yellows, golds, and tans of autumn have their own special beauty, and it is a little different when it has a green background. Of course with evergreens, there is always a green background, but usually it is more two-toned and less full-color.

One row of little sugar maples are knocking themselves out. They didn't get the memo. Alone in the march towards winter, they are the single splash of firey leaves on the trees here. Maybe the spiders whispered to them that fall was here.

There will be a bumper crop of puffballs in the fields next year, judging by the ones that are left from this spring, shooting out spores at the slightest touch. They are so easy to spot in the rows between the trees. Big old softballs and soccer balls made out of mushroom.

The poke plants are all pretty this time of year. The stems have gotten deep magenta, and the berries range in degrees of ripeness (not edible) from inky purple to barely green. This one had all forms, including some blossoms at the very top.

I know autumn will get here one way or another. Winter will follow with the biting winds and cold wet days. Just like I know tomorrow will send me back into the trenches, writing articles, pulling together ads, putting a new page up on the site that gives our advertisers another shot at our readers, and working on a new book. We'll start work on the shop for Frog Hollow Evergreens, and the orders will get shipped. But today is another day to just breathe.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our Environment and Baby Steps

Living where I do, it would be easy to bury my head in the sand and pretend everything is alright. It is nearly pristine farmland, and the creeks and streams run clear. Wildlife abounds, flora and fauna alike.
But civilization encroaches. Street lights are going up just a few miles down the road, and construction blocks most of the main roads going anywhere. Even if I stay on the hill, eventually the radio or TV disturbs my euphoria with news of the world.

The last few years, I don't need outside information to tell me something is up. Right now, we have lilacs and azaleas blooming out of season. Mid-winter, we have been seeing plants trying to get started, only to be cut down by the late arrival of a short winter blitz. Fruit harvests have been affected as well as winter crops. Birds don't migrate at the proper time. Bugs don't die back.

It seems insurmountable - maybe it is.

We all read about the advantages of lowering our thermostats over the winter, keeping our tires properly inflated, and using the new lightbulbs. I thought I'd add another couple of ideas that aren't covered so well.

Single Use Products - Find ways to use them repeatedly. They are still disposable, but each repeated use adds less to the landfill.

-Gallon water jugs cut in half make great funnels, and the bottom half can be used in a lot of ways. Take them into the garden to gather peas, seeds or berries. Use them to mix messy, oily potions that are difficult to clean well.
-Plastic yogurt cups or sour cream containers can be used over and over for small portions of leftovers, packing lunches, and potting up baby plants to share.
-Glass jars from things like mayo and sauces are like gold around here. Well washed, they hold various batches of tinctures and infusions.
-Plastic carry-out containers are perfect for leftovers, mixing up herb blends, or sharing food with a neighbor. They freeze well, and are stronger than the Glad storage containers on the market.

Learn to compost
There are ways that everyone can compost - even apartment dwellers. Small amounts of well composted vegetable matter can be used in houseplants (they'll love you for it), or given to a grateful friend. Why pay a fortune to have it hauled away by gas guzzling trucks, when it can become sweet earth?

Plan your trips to get the most accomplished with the least driving
This one is easy for me. My sister is my neighbor, so we combine our trips to town whenever possible. We make a loop of errands - bank, post office, grocery store, etc., and both do everything necessary in one trip. Teaching my daughter to drive means that for the first time in over a year, I am filling up the tank more than once or twice a month. Is there someone near you that you can combine trips with? It may mean a phone call, saying, "I'm going, do you need anything?" rather than riding together. Each combined trip saves.

Upsize product packages
An oldie but a goodie. I'm not talking about buying a case at a time (although in some instances, that has merits), but simply a larger package. It saves packaging, saves the number of times you need to go back to the store, AND it saves you money.

Buy local produce and products whenever possible
Consider the energy used to ship things to your area, and the real cost. Food produced locally will be fresher, more wholesome, and more nutritious. There are many good books and theories that speak to the idea that we are not meant to eat out of season food, that our bodies aren't equipped to deal with it. When you consider the true cost of those "fresh" out-of-season cherries, are they really worth it? They'll taste better in the summer, anyway!
You'll notice that most of these ideas are pretty simple. It might stand out that besides their gentle approach to the environment, they have an even gentler effect on your wallet. When we re-use things, we save money. When we conserve things, we save money. Our lives are such at this point, that time has become more important than money. Nobody has enough time. So convenience has become a part of everyday life. It is so much easier to throw things away and "get a new one". The state of the economy may have a silver lining for the environment. As more and more people find that there is less "disposable" income, we'll all be looking for more ways to re-use. Start today.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Woolly Bear Prediction for the coming winter

Right now, country roads are being traveled by the Woolly Bear caterpiller, the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth. Prognosticators from this part of the country have used this little guy for for decades to give a clue to the upcoming winter's weather.
The caterpillar is reddish-brown, with black bands on the head and tail ends. The width of the black bands are what foretell the weather. In fact, our local paper, The Lancaster New Era, ran a tongue-in-cheek story just yesterday, as they do each fall. Caterpillars are gathered from various parts of the state and a consensus is reached. Entomologists from Penn State were presented with a rarity earlier this week - a caterpillar with NO banding. So far, it is the only one.
I've been seeing them everywhere this past week. They cross the roads between fields, and at times it is like a tiny little march. There is a picture (with crude markings of my own lame doing) on the sidebar of a little fellow whom had nestled into the basement doorway.
So, the official prediction for this winter? Another mild winter. From the article in the paper,
"Think twice about buying the little ones sleds for Christmas, no matter how nostalgic you get. Take a picture and post the snowblower on Ebay. Ice fishers would do better to take up indoor shuffleboard.
Last winter we didn't get a decent snow until Feb. 18, and even that was an ugly mess with sleet and ice added in. The first plowable snow will arrive earlier this year - around mid-January - but there will only be three nuisance snows the remainder of the winter.
Expect many of those irritating days in the 40's - too warm to snow, too cold to shed the sweater."

Uh huh! I was just going to say that!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nov/Dec '07 issue of The Essential Herbal

It's in the mail, and it's good. Another delightful, delicious, and diverse holiday issue is on the way to subscribers, shops, and businesses. We always sweat this one (the Nov/Dec issue) out a little, wanting it to be special. It is hard to be thinking about the holidays and family when the garden is still producing, still needing our attention. Our writers and contributors never disappoint us.
And just in case you haven't seen The Essential Herbal magazine, this is a good time to subscribe!
So - here's what's inside. A little teaser until it arrives.

Table of Contents

~Crossword Puzzle - Winter Traditions, Tina Sams

~Field Notes from the Editor

~Deep Within the Core, Laura Daniel
Laura shares her aromatherapy Healing Home Remedy for living in NYC

~Preserving the Harvest, Karen Mallinger
Drying, Tinctures, and Infused Oils

~Enticing Holiday Appetizers, Susan Evans
Pine Cone Almond Dip, Baby Crab Cakes with Easy Remoulade, and Cowboy Caviar are some of the recipes in this article

~Can Wine Help or Harm You, Burno Silvester Lopes
Resveratrol and Procyanidins - the keys

~Suburban Herbie, Geri Burgert
Non Herbal Non Christmas Holiday Cookies - Rugelach!

~Never Enough Thyme, Susanna Reppert
Here We Go a Wassailing

~An Interview with Gail Edwards, Katherine Turcotte
And review of Travering the Wild Terrain of Menopause - Herbal Allies for Midlife Women & Men

~Down on the Farm, Michele Brown & Pat Stewart
Potpourri...a How-to

~List Article, Warm Winter Drinks
We gathered recipes for teas, cocoas, coffee, chai, cider - yummmm

~Planting Seeds of Summer Dreams, Betsy May
Where do you get your seeds? Here are some GREAT ideas!

~SouthRidge Treasures, Mary Ellen Wilcox
New Years with recipes for lentil soup, donuts, and rice pudding.

~Book Review, Sarah Liberta
The NEW Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs from The Herb Society of America is reviewed, and they even provided a recipe.

~Gifts From the Garden - Herb Bundles, Rita Richardson
Lots of creative ways to use all the herbs you grew

~Louisiana Lagniappe, Sarah Liberta
Eggplant and Mushroom Pie, plus a 1-2-3-4 Herb Blend

~Handmade Gel Air Fresheners, Meri Rees

~Bring Juniper into Your Life, Maureen Rogers
Sachet, decoction, foot bath, and juniper wine are just a few of the recipes for this useful plant, and you'll find them in the article.

~Mother & Child, Pam Ferry
Children and the Holidays, keeping it merry

~Hairy, Hairy Christmas, Theresa Kavi
Scalp Soak for great hair

~Classified Ads

~Potpourri (Scented) Cleaner, Marge Clark

~Snowball Candy, Holly O'Brien

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pumpkins and Hippie Cream

I thought I'd share a little something I listened to today from Cuddles the Vampire by Hippie Cream being as it is October. The drummer is one of my best friend's brother, and I really enjoy the way they use their voices and instruments to create a completely different sound. This one just cracked me up. Organized chaos has always been a concept near and dear to my heart, and now there is theme music! I've never posted music before. Hope this works.

I posted the following to The Essential Herbal Yahoo group. Thought I'd repeat it for my fellow pumpkin pie and bread lovers (there followed some great recipes, including this one for Pumpkin Chiffon Cake, from Betty Pillsbury:

Yesterday found me visiting an Amish roadside stand, where I picked up a pumpkin roll - moist, spicy cake rolled around a cream cheese filling. It got me thinking about medicinal uses for pumpkins. I love pumpkin pie, bread, and whoopie pies (gobs to some of you), so thought it would be nice to find a GOOD reason to dig in.
Their deep orange color denotes the presence of loads of beta carotene and they are full of lutein (good for the eyes). A little sniffing around turned up articles that say the oil made from the seeds is being studied for prostate health, particularly in conjunction with saw palmetto. The seeds (pepitas) are also a folk remedy for depression, and in larger quantities, parasites and kidney stones.
This article on the use of pumpkin extract in diabetes and pre-diabetes was interesting:

"A new study from China reveals pumpkin extract regenerates damaged pancreatic cells in diabetic rats, which boosts levels of insulin-producing beta cells and insulin in the blood. The diabetic rats had only 5 percent less plasma insulin and 8 percent fewer insulin-positive beta cells compared to normal healthy rats.
Researchers say pumpkin extract could benefit both pre-diabetics and patients who already have the disease. They note diabetics will probably always need insulin injections, but the extract could drastically reduce the amount of insulin they need."

So. Now we can feel good about these scrumptious fruits/vegetables.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Local herb classes

There are some great classes in the works for locals - Lancaster, PA. They'll be held at Radiance on Grant Street, and you can contact Sarah at 717-290-1517 to reserve a spot and get times and details.

Weds, Oct 17 from 2 - 3:30 pm: Essential oils and a distillation demonstration
Tues, Oct 23: Herb Cordials
Weds, Oct 24: Tinctures and Vinegars
Tues, Oct 30: The Witching Herbs
Sat, Nov 3: Herb Beadmaking
Tues, Nov 13: Infused Oils and Salves
Weds, Nov 21: Herb Butters and Dips
Sat, Dec 1: Bath Salts/Herbs/Oils

Also! October 27th at The Rosemary House there will be an all day workshop with Rosemary Gladstar. That's another "can't miss" herbal event!

Herbal Swap coming up

A few days ago I was sitting around, letting thoughts wander aimlessly through my head, when one of them got stuck. Wouldn't it be fun to have an herbal product swap on The Essential Herbal's Yahoo list? Michele Brown from Possum Creek Herbs had suggested it privately to me before, but that was back in the days of the full-time job.
So, 2 days later we have 2 groups of 15 people all set to get swapping. Maryanne is helping with the swap, and we are both included in the each of the two groups.
I'm really excited. This has gotten my imagination into overdrive. Pretty soon we'll be setting up the shop down at the Frog Hollow Evergreens farm (VERY soon!), and we also have the spring herb fairs and market off in the distance. If we look at it that way we can make batches of several things. We'll be the last stop for the swaps, so if we have a couple of different choices we can make sure the swap boxes have lots of variety.
Now my head is spinning with ideas!
Neck coolers, eye pillows, salves, herb beads, hand rolled incense, potpourri.... the possibilities are endless! Just what I needed to get into production mode!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Spiders are going to enclose my house

I walked outside into the fog this morning to be met with an eerie sight. Not only was the hill completely covered with thick, quiet fog, but the spiders have been busily working outside.
The whole front garden and all of the shrubs are covered with so many webs that it looks like that stuff you buy to decorate for Halloween. I noticed that the evergreens in the next field have been festooned as well.

Spiders are supposed to be good things to have around, keeping other insects in check. They also have powerful symbolism. Spiders are the weavers of the web - and internet associations aside, the web is what connects all things. I love that particular bit of symbolism. The idea that by tweaking one of the threads on a web, all parts are affected and feel the movement. It reflects how I envision the earth and the environment, and how every little thing makes a difference to all things. For instance, the use of chemicals in farming disturbs the fragile chemistry of the soil, destroying bacteria and micro-organisms that are necessary to the fertility of the soil. Introducing or removing a species in the wild can create a whole landslide of changes.

Spider webs have been used to staunch bleeding in folk medicine. The strong filaments were used to cover a wound, giving blood a network on which to coagulate.

Still... I have to admit that spiders give me the willies. There's a big one living in one of the bathtubs, and I've decided to ignore it completely. Seeing what they managed to do in one night makes me wonder if one morning I'll need a machete to get out through the door. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Snatched a few days from the crushing jaws of life

I've mentioned it before, but something has happened in the past 6 months that astounds me. I keep chewing on it, trying to figure it out. Everything got busy. All at once. There was an imperceptible shift, and suddenly I find myself hanging onto the tail of the time monster just trying to keep a firm grip. There is a huge grin on my face all the while, but still, it is a change, and change can be difficult.
My dearest gallant knight seemed to sense that I needed to step away for a little bit, and swooped me up for a trip out of town. The magazine was at the printer(to be delivered here for mailing tomorrow), most things were in a stage that could be left for a bit, and my sister agreed to manage the farm market without me - so off we went to Atlantic City.

It comes as a surprise - even to me - that I have a weakness for casinos. The fact that they overlook the ocean makes it even better! After a period of lights and noise, I could wander out to the beach and pick up shells or watch the seagulls swoop and dive.

Our room was high above the shoreline with a great view of the ocean. I could go prop my feet on the low window ledge and read, pausing every so often to watch the waves roll in. It was so relaxing. The food was all delicious, but the first night we went to an exquisite restaurant where they served a mushroom/crab soup. It was so good we both ate every drop. When we commented on how perfect it was, they offered us the recipe! I can't wait to try it.

My mission on the beach was to find tiny shells - snail, conch, and scallop in particular - for a craft I have in mind. I found so many that the exercise from bending to pick them up combined with the walking in the fresh sea air made me feel lively and rejuvenated.

There is something about standing on the shore that captivates me. Each wave makes me consider where that water has been. What small turbulence made the wave? Every bit of wind that ravages my hair makes me wonder what that air has curled around before. It has come so far to get to where I stand. Holes in the puffy clouds create pockets of sunshine on the calm surface out beyond the waves and make me wonder what it would be like to be at sea, and see nothing except what nature hands out.

The families that play along the beach seem to notice none of that, only aware of the sand and the water and the wind. The birds pick at the shells on the beach, oblivious to the enormity of the ocean and all that comes with it. I am always in awe at the shoreline.

So now I'm home. I should be tired from the trip and the long drive. Instead, I'm crunching through the debris that has piled up, happily setting things right. Sometimes getting away is exactly what is needed.