Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Intentional Confusion - Glade Candles

Okay - I just can't stand it any more.
Last night I saw it again. Glade candles, "made with essential oils". This makes my blood boil. It is a blatant, intentionally misleading statement. Someone on a forum I frequent contacted the company about it, and was told something like - the term "essential oils" doesn't have a real definition, so it can be used anyway they like.

Well let's just talk about that for a minute, shall we? For all of the years that my sister and I had the shop, and all the years since, it has been a constant teaching of that definition that we've been struggling to share with the consumer. Essential oils are derived from plant sources. They are obtained through steam distillation, cold pressing, or solvent extraction. Essential oils are NOT a combination of chemicals blended to approximate the scent of RAIN!!!
It is important to define the difference between Essential oils and Fragrance oils because while fragrance oils may smell wonderful, they will not have the same (or any, for that matter) effects as essential oils in aromatherapy. Plant oils can heal the skin, change the way we feel, and do a myriad of wonderful things. Fragrance oils just smell good.
The makers of these candles are doing the consumer an enormous disservice by muddying the waters. I believe that would be Johnson & Johnson - a Family Company. So keep that in mind when you purchase their products for your baby. The lavender or chamomile "essential oils" in their products may or may NOT be anything more than a conglomeration of chemicals - and they really don't care if you're confused or not. In fact, since the fragrance oils are so much cheaper than the essentials, they most likely hope you are confused.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Herb Gifts for Herb Folk!

If you haven't had a chance to visit our website, we've got some unusual items that might make the hunt for holiday gifts for the "herbie" in your life a lot easier. You'll find pictures of each item at the website, so stop by and visit!

Gift subscriptions to The Essential Herbal (of course!) This is one gift that comes a-calling 6 times a year, right to their door. Filled with recipes, crafts, information, and inspiration to help bring herbs into everyday life.

Wild Foods for Every Table - Cookbook for using the plants all around you. We gathered recipes from people who have been cooking wild plants and loving them! Great ways to incorporate wild (and FREE!) foods into your family's diet.

Hand Made Incense booklet and kit - add water or hydrosols to make cones from resin and sandalwood. Instructions and recipes included so you can do it yourself!

Herbal Bead booklet and kit - add water or hydrosols to create scented beads from botanicals. Instructions and recipes included so you can do it yourself!

T-Shirts for your favorite reader of The Essential Herbal . Available in bayberry blue, dusty rose, and terra cotta.

Lavender Wands woven from 17 stems of exquisite Grosso Lavender. Delightful!

"Wish Candles" for Wisdom, Healing, Abundance, Love, Manifesting a Miracle, Harmony , all are beautifully scented. Light and visualize that which you are trying to bring into your life.

Spice Clay Mix - just add applesauce . Each package will make about 25 ornaments that hold their fragrance for years. Great for package tie-ons, tree ornaments, potpourri, and garlands!

CobraHead Tool - Spring weeding is just around the corner... This is our favorite gardening tool, and we think you need one too.

And some other books and incense making tools/ingredients. Burners, tragacanth, and other hard to find ingredients.

Drop on by!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Herbcrafting Time at Frog Hollow

The months of November and December hold a special kind of Paradise for me. My sister and I turn part of the soap and jewelry studio into a shop during those months, while folks are hunting for the perfect tree on the farm. We spend lots of time in craft heaven. We are both involved in (and hosting) an herbal craft swap, but we've finished those things. They'll be reported on after the boxes go out.
Each day seems to be perfect timing for a new project. We might play with some resins, or packaging. Maybe we'll pull out the paints or stencil some fabric. Ideas that have been brewing for months finally come to fruition. The magazine is away at the printers', soap is on the shelves ready to fill orders, and we get to play for a good long time.

Yesterday the amber resin and little carved rosewood boxes that have been here for months finally got packaged up. Figuring out exactly how to display them was a bit of a challenge, but the end result looks pretty good. The scent comes through the shrinkwrap band that protects the resin, and the choice of black corrugated cardboard and kraft label stock seems to work well.
With my brother coming to join our little art colony, it is exciting to think about what we might accomplish. As it is, we have the soap, the distillation, the lampwork and jewelry making, and the magazine and books. Bob is looking at putting in a pottery studio, and John is checking into working with lost wax silver work. All we need now is a spinning wheel and a few alpacas. Maybe a goat or two? Oh, and then we need to study chandling. Another brother used to do a good bit of leather working. Hmmmm....

We pulled out some of the gourd stash from last year and decided to do some rattles. There are several more not in the picture - either drying or waiting to be drilled for a hanging loop. The kids got into the act on the rattles. There is something so relaxing and mesmerizing about working with a natural medium. The gourds lead you if you just relax and go with it. Next thing you know, it is done!

For years, I've wanted to try a pine needle basket. On the way down to the shop this morning I picked up a branch that had been trimmed off and left in the field. When I got to the bottom of the hill, it turned out there was a large pile of such branches. Oh well. Anyway, once the beginning circle is sewn into place, it is simple to go from there. Sticky, but simple. There were a couple of shells from the most recent trip to the beach that had holes that fit over the needle, so I stuck them onto the basket. Now I'm thinking about how much fun it would be to weave things like lavender, thyme, and rosemary. It was more fun than I expected.

Now to think about projects for next weekend!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

4 days and 35 degrees

I know I've swayed a little from herbal stuff of late, but I'll get back to it soon. There is something funny going on outside, and it just HAS to be recorded.

4 days ago we had snow. It was a bit of a surprise, and it was quite early for the area, but nevertheless, we had snow. Molly ran out and scooped up enough to make a slushy. There was snow.

Today was nearly 70 degrees.

Now on top of that, our autumn is still in full force. We expected that the dry late summer would leave us with a brown autumn. That changed dramatically when some wet weather, combined with a slow cooling worked together to give us one of the longest-lasting and most incredible falls I've ever seen.

Below, you will find a series of pictures that were taken today. In one, you'll see the Dogwood that is blooming again, amid autumn foliage! It is simply stunning out there. I'll just shut up and show you.
Look closely - there are blooms on that Dogwood.

I have a hard time telling if it is spring or fall in some of the pictures, although they were all taken today. Check out those gigantic Magnolia leaves! We used a foot for scale.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pods, Sunbeams, and a Splash of Yellow

Before saying anything else, I need to whine for a moment. The other day was the worst day ever to leave the house without the camera. First, driving down a street canopied with firey red, crimson, pink, and yellow leaves, I would have leapt from the car and stood in the middle of the street to capture a picture of that beauty, but alas... No Camera!
Later that same day, in a cobblestoned alleyway surrounded with 100+ year old brick buildings, I turned a corner and came face to face with the most magnificently powerful horse. It was one of those experiences where you look around for someone, anyone, with whom to share the moment. This immense dappled gray horse (one of the mounted officer's steeds) stood tied to a post outside the old market building. The day was overcast. It felt as if I had been magically transported to another time, perhaps mid 19th century. We stood and looked at each other for a moment, I not wanting it to end, until it was time to leave. AGAIN! No Camera!

So my upcoming resolution for the new year is to never leave the house without the camera. Our area is just too rich and it's too easy to miss things.

I started posting pods the other day, and one of my favorites is the Common Rose Mallow - Hibiscus moscheutos L.. The pods turn a burnished brown, almost resembling leather, and then open to reveal the seeds. As it cracks open it looks like another blossom, only brown, matching the autumn. So far, I haven't noticed the plant spreading from the seeds. There are two - a white and a pink - and they are staying pretty much just that... two plants.

Today while I was sitting at the dining room table writing the Field Notes for the next issue, the sky outside caught my eye through the sliding glass doors. Sunbeams burst through the thick cloud and spilled onto the farm below. The brightly colored leaves will only be around for another day or so, and everything looks so pretty.

Then there is the maple growing off the corner of the deck. It is currently at such as size as to appear as a bush beside the second story deck. Looking out the door while getting coffee this morning, the blaze of yellow grabbed my attention against the morning mist.

It's another beautiful season here on the hill. There are still some herbs worth harvesting out there. The plantain shows up vibrantly against the grass that is turning a weathered gold. The rosemary waves to me through the office window, and the saffron continues to stay well beneath the soil, taunting me as I go look each day for signs of life.

Tomorrow the hillside will be full of families out choosing their trees. In another couple of weeks they'll be back to cut them, and take them home to decorate for the holidays. And then we will slide into another winter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Karen and the turkey

Herbed Turkey Recipe or How I Broke Out of my Left Brained Cooking Mode
Previously published in The Essential Herbal

OK, admit it. Every year, the same old turkey. I know it's a tradition, but if you're looking for something a little different and wonderful, read on!
After becoming "herbie", I decided that there was something sacrilegious about not cooking with herbs in everything I did. One Thanksgiving I decided to throw caution to the wind and experiment on my family. (Quite frankly, that was the beginning of experiments on my unsuspecting brood. They are all still my favorite guinea pigs!!)
Grabbing my helpless, unsuspecting Honeysuckle White from the water, I plopped it on the counter and opened up the herb cupboard. I was fairly new to herbs so I had a little sheet on the inside of the cupboard that showed all the things herbs go best with. I started scanning for anything that would work with poultry or anything feathered. There were several wonderful selections which all happened to be staring out at me begging for a culinary debut.
I started pulling out jars like a woman possessed. (If you've ever met me, I pretty much act that way all the time!) There was the traditional sage. Marjoram, rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, savory. As I stared at the collection of jars and bottles before me, that old overwhelmed feeling started in the pit of my stomach. Being seriously left brained, (I don't think I even have a right lobe at all) I am one of those cooks who follows a recipe down to the letter, so this was scary to say the least and on a level with jumping from a 100 foot building at most. But I was determined. I pushed on.
I thought perhaps the muscle test might work. You know, that thing where you hold out your arm and with the other hand hold something close like sugar and see how your body reacts when someone tries to push down on the outstretched arm? Well anyway, the turkey wasn't cooperating at all. I lifted a wing and held a spice close. No response. Hmmmm.
Finally I decided to get in touch with my creative side, whatever that was. I opened jars, sniffed, put two jars together and sniffed. This went on for 15 minutes. My husband walked in, took one look at me, shook his head and kept walking. (He's done that a lot lately, come to think of it.) Next the sons who, just because they are adults now and out of the house, think they know everything. ("HERBED Turkey? What the heck is THAT! Come on, MOM! Just make it the way you normally do!") But I was a woman on a mission. Can't be an herbie if you don't live it.
Finally, I decided on the sage, the rosemary, the marjoram and the oregano. Plus some chopped garlic I had handy. And of course salt and pepper. I poured some olive oil into a bowl. (Much healthier than butter, which Mom used to use to rub on the turkey).

Then I added the spices. About 1/2 cup of olive oil. I purposely didn't measure, cause real cooks don't measure. (Wonder who came up with THAT lie?!) Then about a tablespoon of each of my selected spices. I mixed it up well and proceeded to pour a small amount into my hand.
As it dribbled through my fingers, (that move needs work) I quickly got my hands over the turkey and let it run out. Next I grabbed the bowl and poured a small amount on "Tom". Then I began the first avian massage. I worked and massaged until my 20 pounder was covered from neck hole to the part that went over the fence last as well as inside with my special brew. I convinced myself that this would also make the meat much more tender, so I put my whole heart and soul into it. I kept pouring and massaging until I had used up all the contents. There I stood, over my victim with my hands greasy and in mid air. (another confused but sympathetic look from my husband). Even if it didn't taste good, this was the most fun I've ever had preparing food!
We always stuff our birds, so that went in next. My loving hubby grabbed the bowl of stuffing out of the refrigerator and placed it next to the bird on the counter. ("Why don't you just wipe your hands off?") SNORT! Be CAUSE, I want all that nice mixture to get into the stuffing as well. Men!
After stuffing every last bit into the cavity and the neck skin, Tom was ready for the oven. I put him in at 325 degrees with some foil over the top to seal in the steam. The house smelled heavenly and soon, men and dogs were wandering in to "Help with the basting"! (Where were these guys when I was wrestling this 20 lb slippery beast?) About 30 minutes before he was done, I took Tom's foil blankie off so he could get nice and brown. And then, the moment of truth. My husband proudly carved and everyone ooo'd and ahhhh'd at my masterpiece. I waited expectantly while everyone else dug in. tick tick tick tick. (Now I know how Alex Trebeck feels!) WELL?!!! Amidst grunts, slurps and nods, I got the message that the Herbed Turkey was a success.

t was wonderful and tender and the herbs gave it a wonderfully subtle but delightfully different taste. I smiled happily as I spooned out some more stuffing. Wait a minute, what's that thing? Looks like paper. I pulled it apart from the stuffing. THE GIBLETS! (I wondered what had happened to those!) So, lesson learned. Make sure you do a thorough body cavity search before embarking on this adventure!
Bon Appetite!!

Karen Mallinger

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Seeds and Pods - Part One

One of my favorite parts of this time of year is seeing all of the different forms nature creates to disperse seeds. As the weather chills, nuts, seeds, berries, and pods show themselves and split open to display some breathtakingly beautiful stuff.
For the next few posts (barring some unforeseen wonderfulness that will need discussion), I'll be out there snapping pictures of some of them in my area, and sharing them here.
Yesterday on my way to town, I rounded a bend and came upon a large amount of Bittersweet. I suspect this to be the more invasive Chinese variety, Celastrus orbiculatus, based on the profusion of berries all along the branches, rather than the native Celastrus scandens that is being rapidly replaced.
Still, it is stunning. I swerved the car off the road and jumped out to take a few pictures.
Bittersweet and I go way back. I'm not aware of any medicinal properties but as an Autumn wreath or swag material, it is a great addition. The first time I saw it, someone brought it to the shop in bunches for us to sell. She spoke of knowing "certain places" where it grew, as if it were a well-kept family secret. It became a sort of obsession at that point.
I searched through field guides and read about the growth habits. At that time, we lived on a different wooded acreage, and one day I just decided that it HAD to be down in the woods. It was cold, and I bundled up in search of the bright berried plant. Through the briars and bramble I went, climbing over fallen branches and pulling clingy wind rose thorns from my clothing.
At some point, almost ready to give up, I tumbled down the bank into the shallow stream. Disgusted with myself, I started climbing the bank. As I reached for a protruding root to use for leverage, I looked at the ground beside my hand. There were some fallen berries. Poised precariously on the bank, I craned my neck back and looked up the tree whose roots I was clinging to, only to see the bittersweet high (very) among the uppermost branches.
In the next couple of years, the obsession grew. I learned that bittersweet leaves have a uniquely clear yellow color in the fall. On car trips (as a passenger), I can find it almost any day, no matter where we are going.
If you know me, you know that there are always a couple of plants that are on my "sighting list" in any given year. For a while it was elderberry, then boneset, and St. John's wort. Black cohosh and jewelweed are in there, along with many others. They all have had me scanning the woodlands, learning to recognize them from a distance, getting to know them by their look, the way you can tell an old friend from a distance by the way they walk, their posture, the way they carry themselves.

Another seed pod that really caught my eye recently is the thornapple from the Moonflower. I wrote about the flowers earlier when they bloomed.
At the top right of the picture, in the corner of the basket you can make out some of the tan seeds that have spilled from one of the split pods.
The thornapples are indeed covered with spines. They are not soft thorns. They are stiff. So it strikes me as such a contrast with the satin-y ruffles that skirt the stem.
I cut almost all of them from the plant, leaving only one or two for next year. This plant is a strong one, and it is close to the foundation of the house. Some of the seeds will be shared. Part of it too, is curiousity. I want to see how they dry, what they'll look like when they're done. The outsides almost remind me of chestnuts - the way they feel to touch. Clipping them and catching them in the basket, I noticed that they smell a bit like peanut butter. As Molly walked by, I held them up and asked her to sniff. She thinks they smell bitter. Hmmm.... Interesting.

Monday, November 05, 2007

In Blows the Fall

I chose this picture today, even though it is about 2 weeks old, because it makes me feel good. This gazebo resides down by the pond. It is always beautiful in any season. In the spring, there are dogwoods, celandine and daylilies jostling for attention. In the summer, the trumpet vine is ablaze with blossoms, and the hummingbirds flock around it. In autumn, it is covered with berries and pods. In the winter, the vines hold the faintest wisps of snow, and the austere shell portends of spring to come.
At first I picked it because the last few days have been uncharacteristically filled with upheaval. The gazebo is a visual of how our lives typically feel here on the hill. Peaceful and fulfilling, with lots of creativity, growth and support.
Most years, it is surrounded by hostas, sedum, and ferns. This wasn't that kind of year though. This year wasn't easy on the family and things had to be let go a little bit. Just a little. The pokeweed took advantage of the situation, but I'm certain that by the time the sun comes back next spring, things will be back to something like normal.
Autumn has blown in. It has blown into this year, and it has blown into our lives. We're getting older.
When I look at this picture I remember when the gazebo was built. It was pale wood with cedar shingles on the roof. The vines that encircle it now were just small, struggling to reach the first railing.
The gazebo has seen a lot. It's watched as the pond was drained and rebuilt. It has seen the fish being restocked, and the cranes that came in to scoop them up. It has kept frogs and bugs cozy under the floorboards, and has listened while we sat within the shade it provides, laughing and planning. It watched while the kids took the boat out on the pond, and saw every time Molly fell into the water. It stood by while Rob spent hours skipping stones over the water and has watched the turtles float lazily on the surface. It listened while the various frogs set up their chorus in the spring and stood as a quiet refuge, waiting to offer peace and quiet after a jaunt down into the woods.
Over time the wood took on a weathered look, gaining character. It has a few loose rails and the roof has some bald spots. At times it is overgrown, and there is a slight tilt to the floor. Most of the time it sits unassuming as the wildlife scurries past or through it. It is just there, a sweet constant in the landscape.
It makes getting older look like it might be a good thing. I wonder if it ever forgets what it was just about to do?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Herb Businesses in My World

Lately I've been a cheerleader. Not in sports, but in business. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that there are several herb businesses close to me physically. Over the years, there are many that are not so physically close, but with the help of the internet they may as well be. Part of my goal in starting the magazine was to make it easier for small herb companies to make some noise. We do that, but lately it's been more hands-on (and fun!) than normal.

Radiance is at the top of the list. Sarah opened a year ago, and her shop has seen some amazing growth. I spend a day a week at the shop. The plan - give Sarah some uninterrupted time to make her products, and I get to play store. Right now it isn't working out that way. A year ago, there was so much space to fill. During the year, new items have come in, new products have been made, gorgeous natural fiber clothing has arrived, and the shop is FULL!
I remember this time from our own shop. Suddenly everything needs to be overhauled to display things properly. While once things were displayed in such a way as to spread out, now the real elements of display come into play. Does a table of low-ticket items make sense when the big-ticket stuff is out of sight? How does the eye flow? Is there enough color contrast? Do the areas flow into each other? This is my favorite part of merchandising (aside from the wholesale shopping, of course), but it is also physically demanding. It sometimes means moving one whole side of the shop, only to find that it won't work as planned. Back it goes until plan B shows up. The other day Sarah and I decided it was a lot like chess... trying to get everything to work together.
We have a lot of fun working together. We toss all kinds of ideas around until one sticks. The shop is changing. It's been beautiful since day one, and we are just increasing that and making it more shoppable.

Then there is the blog cheer. About a month ago a small group of bloggers, and some seriously thinking about blogging gathered and started swapping ideas and giving shoves. Within a few days, blogs for SunRose, Radiance (and Labyrinth Herbs), Green Spiral, Dreamseeds, Herbs by Sarah,and Whimsy Lane were on board. Some took a little pushing, some dove right in with no help at all. Then the Reppert sisters started their blog last week from The Rosemary House, and the herb farm down the road, Cloverleaf snagged one. Kathy at Cloverleaf isn't actually on-line herself, but will blog from the soap studio at my sister's. Some of the bloggers who'd been at it for a while (myself included) happily take energy from this group and come up with ideas for our own. It has been a very cool thing.

John Gallagher from has come up with a brilliant new concept for ... well, learning about herbs. He's put together a vast member site that will be announced soon. It has everything one could imagine - films, interviews, classes, a forum, articles, and TONS of information. He's gathered herbalists to offer insight and conversation. I am very excited to be a small part of it, and look forward to meeting many new-to-me and enthusiastic herbies.

Lastly is my sister's wholesale soap business. I've been giving gentle nudges and shoves for quite a while, and this has been a bang-up year so far.

I love being in the thick of things and watching these people who work so hard grow and stretch. This has been a very rewarding couple of months. YAY! Sis! Boom! Bah!