Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lily and the Catnip

We now have a resident cat. She came along when my brother moved in. Not your typical cuddly kitty, Lily prefers to pretend she'd like to be patted, only to return the favor with a swipe or a bite. I've watched this charade enough to never fall for it myself.

Still, I like having her around. She sleeps a lot, being an older cat, and when she's awake she practices looking bored and above our silly human chatter.

The other day I found some catnip under a tree, that managed to survive the recent freezing temperatures. Catnip is a very hardy plant. It is often the last to disappear in winter, and the first to show leaves in summer. The old wive's tale is that cats aren't much affected by wild catnip, and only really like cultivated catnip. In fact, I once had a cat who jumped 5 feet to knock down 3 potted catnip plants, and ate them all down to the roots during the night. He did leave the wild catnip in the yard alone. We covered the cultivated plants (that were purchased to replace those he'd devoured) with 1/2 peck peach baskets to protect them until they reached a size that even he couldn't kill, and then he wasn't nearly as attracted to them.

So anyhow, I gave Lily the wild catnip I'd found by putting it in her favorite lounging area when she was elsewhere. As soon as she found it, she was transported to wherever cats go when they nibble on the plant. She savored the small sprigs for two days, at which point we decided she'd had enough. She's still looking for it.

While I was out looking around (i.e. walking off the feast) yesterday, I snapped a couple of pictures.

The first is the pond looking down from my sister's front porch. It is quiet and still, all of the fish, frogs, and turtles snuggled in for the winter. In a few months time, they'll need all of their energy to raise a ruckus of mating calls, and feeding. Then it will be a wild and crazy place. But for now, all is slumber.

Out on the trellis, the gourds we'll work on next spring and summer are drying. These are a different shape than what we've been using, and should make some interesting bowls and hinged caches. There are also 5 or 6 loofah gourds not in the picture. They are blackened and slightly shriveled. We'll need to peel them and clean them well to use them.

Lastly were my least favorite chickens. The black and white rooster is my arch nemesis. He follows closely, darting in for a good peck to the ankle if given the slightest chance. He runs along sideways, looking out of one eye, always watching, always nearby. He, more than any other, needs a little taste of hot water, parsley, and celery.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Jan/Feb '08 issue of The Essential Herbal

The Jan/Feb '08 issue of The Essential Herbal magazine is out. It is exciting for several reasons. First, we're entering our lucky 7th year of publication. At the very same time, we've switched to soy-based inks to print it. This cover is from a very old giveaway to promote the products of CF Miller, a soap maker and perfumer from Lancaster, PA, our home town. It was a small book about interpreting dreams. The illustration worked very well with the theme that blossomed on it's own for this issue - winter dreams, and what we are already wishing for next spring.
Here's what you'll find inside:
Table of Contents
Crossword - What's That Herb For?
Field Notes from the Editor
Apprenticing with Rosemary Gladstar, Betsy May
Pungent Power Medicine of Garlic, Kristena Roder
Try a Little Tenderness, Laura Daniel
Suburban Herbie - Overstuffed, Geri Burgert
Goji Berries...Myth or Miracle Herb, Maureen Rogers
Never Enough Thyme, Nervines, Susanna Reppert
Garcinia indica.choisy (Kokum), Bruno Lopes
Echinacea! A History of Healing, Joe Smulevitz, C.H., M.H.
Down on the Farm, A Long Winter's Nap..Not!, Michele Brown and Pat Stewart
List Article - Winter Wishes
Super Sunday Recipes, Maryanne Schwartz
Louisiana Lagniappe, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, Sarah Liberta
SouthRidge Treasures, Bathing with Herbs, Mary Ellen Wilcox
New Year's Resolutions, Susan Evans
The Soap Pot - Soap Basics, Alicia Grosso
Calendula officianalis, Herb of the Year 2008, Betty Pillsbury
Natural Recipes, Cathy Walker
Winter Skin Woes, Karen Creel
Sweet Dreams Diffuser Blend, Rosanne Tartaro

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Last Minute Herbal Gifts

It's getting down to the wire, and the weather has kept many people from accomplishing some of the things they'd hope to do this holiday season. Just maybe it's time to decide to make some of those gifts that you won't have time to shop for.
Of course, another terrific suggestion is a gift subscription for The Essential Herbal magazine - that one is never too late to order, and with Priority USPS, there are still a couple of days to check out the site I share with my sister, or her incredibly beautiful lampworked beads and jewelry at Torchsong Studio, but for home made ideas, read on...

Homemade cookies are always welcome, as are homemade fudge, jellies, vinegars, and treats of that nature. No matter how expensive they may be, store-bought treats don't taste the same. For some great recipes if you need some inspiration, try this site: Add some herbs like chopped mint, lavender (sparingly), or basil. Dried cranberries and blueberries will help make them slightly more healthy, along with chopped nuts. If there are kids in the house, letting them help will allow them to be part of the action and share in the joy of giving.

Lotion Bars are another treat that are good to make when there isn't much time. To make them, combine 1 part beeswax to 3 parts of a good skin-friendly vegetable oil, or a blend of oils. Heat with a double boiler until liquid. Cool slightly, and add a few drops of essential oil while still liquid. Pour into molds. When they are solid, they're done.

If you've been drying herbs this summer, try your hand at putting together a nice blend of herbal tea. Some of the herbs to consider would include mints, roses, chamomile, catnip, raspberry leaf and berry, basils, rosemary, thyme, purple coneflowers, elder berry and flower, hibiscus, stevia, nettles, blueberry leaf and berry, lemon balm, lemon grass, cinnamon, and lavender. There are many others. Blend a small amount, brew it up and see if you like it. If so, mix a larger quantity and package as a gift. A package of cocoa and some homemade cookies can go together to make a small basket.

Scented Sachets are another quickie. Many kitchen shops sell muslin bags for bouquet garni. These can be stenciled or stamped, and filled with blends - or simple lavender. This is a gift that we often helped children make for their mothers when we did kids programs while running the shop. They decorated the bags and filled them with lavender - all by themselves. Slip a piece of waxed paper into the empty muslin bag before the children start decorating them so the design doesn't go through to the other side.
One of my favorite gifts came when my friends and I were in our late teens/early twenties. My best friend at the time was a poor college student. She took some time and wrote me a letter, telling me what our friendship meant to her. It really was the thought that counted, and that letter meant a lot to me.

As I think of other ideas, I'll try to post them this week. Not promising, though... time is getting tight here too!

In the meantime, let me share this picture of the tree off the deck this morning. We've been very lucky with the weather here, compared to many other parts of the country. Everything was coated with a delicate icing. The trees in the fields all looked like they'd been lightly dusted with sugar.
Later this evening, a blustery front blew in. I saw it from the office window and stepped outside to take a picture. Within 5 minutes, the winds picked up and it sounded like we might lose the roof. Apparently that sound will be with us all night.
Yesterday was the last official day at the tree farm for the year, although we're sure folks will be stopping by all week to pick out trees. There are so many gorgeous trees in the fields. We never run out. Anyhow, this motley crew of tree wranglers (Mark, Scott, Sonny, Rudy, and Bob) greeted the families yesterday, helping them saw down their trees, wrapping them with netting, drilling the trunks, and helping tie them to the tops of the cars. Rudy the wonderdog was there every step of the way, making sure that everyone was in line. Hmmm.... Rudy needs a tree hat.
Lastly, just a few more gourds. Some of them will be gifts, for sure, while others will go to market this spring. They are a pleasant diversion on these cold evenings.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hosting an Herbal Swap

I get myself into a lot of trouble sometimes. Ideas pop up, and poof! they are acted upon. Michele Brown, from Possum Creek, the co-moderator of The Essential Herbal Yahoo! group suggested (at least a year ago) that we try a swap on the group. At the time, I was knee-deep in putting together class kits - or some other hare-brained idea, and didn't bite. For some reason, the idea of a winter swap came up, and it sounded good. We do so much for everyone but ourselves at this time of year, and getting a box full of gifts just for ourselves had a certain allure.
Additionally, we agreed to share our recipes/instructions for our items. They were put together in a booklet and printed, so that everyone would have them, and could perhaps use them to create some gifts for the holiday season. Because so many members make products for sale, this made everyone stretch a bit and come up with things that aren't on their websites or in their shops.

Hosting this one with my sister Maryanne, the timing turned out to be pretty horrific. Our brother spent the better part of two weeks in the hospital, and we moved his things (and his lovely Ninja kitty, Lily) into my home so we can watch over him more carefully. The magazine deadline loomed. There were some lagging swappers (who ALL came through!), and Maryanne's wholesale soap company and lampworked jewelry were keeping us both hopping. Oh, and the tree farm at Frog Hollow was/is just crawling with people, too.

All in all, in spite of a clump of hairy deadlines, everything went well. And the items!!! There were 30 swappers involved, divided into 2 groups, and everyone went above and beyond our expectations. I am on pins and needles now waiting for everyone to receive the return boxes. I can't wait to see their reactions to all the wonderful things they will find.
These pictures are intentionally "bad", so that the surprise isn't ruined for anyone not getting their box yet, who happens to stumble by here.

This is something we will definitely do again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

This Week at The Essential Herbal - in Pictures

There has been so much going on around here lately that I've just felt lucky to be able to snap a picture from time to time. The magazine is scattered in stacks around the living room, waiting to be sacked up, and the soap shelves down at the studio look pretty low. This week *might* kill us, but some good herbs to keep us calm and on task will help. Siberian Ginseng is on the top of my list now, as well as chamomile. It always amazes me how much chamomile helps to calm those jangled nerves.

Here is a little insight to my recent week:
One of the things I love most about this area is how picturesque everyday is. I wrote earlier about the horses in the alleys in town. This one was waiting for his rider outside Central Market the other day around lunch time. I spend a day a week down at Radiance, working with Sarah and Kara, and on a noon stroll love to come upon these guys.
Across the street from my house is a giant star that lights up every year at this time. It is over 6 feet high, and it can be seen for miles, yet the light is soothing and mellow.
We had the first snowfall of the year last week. It was pretty nasty, and as much as I try to avoid driving in that stuff, it fell while I was in the dentist's chair. It had me sliding sideways down one of the longer hills nearby, and I was so relieved to get home so my knees could stop shaking! It was gone by the next day. Pretty, huh?
I'm combining two pictures in one with this one... A package arrived the other day that blew me away. Inside was a gift - an aromatherapy set from SunRose Aromatics
and the scent is an essential oil blend called Joyful. It is an incredibly delicious blend, and just what the doctor ordered! We immediately placed it in the center of the living room and inhaled deeply. It strikes me that it is so easy to find joy, but there has to be that conscious break from the grind... even if just for a moment ... to fully enjoy something. A heartfelt thank you to my dear sweet friend. I love it! Beside that package, you can see my most recent gourd rattle in progress. Molly and I watched the a documentary about 1968 on the History Channel last night, both of us busily working on a gourd. Hers is beautiful, but it isn't ready to show yet (according to her).
Last but not least, in my never-ending struggle to fill every single solitary moment, no matter how insane it might be, the Essential Herbal Yahoo group has been working on a winter swap. It's our first, and I hosted it along with my sister. The boxes are all packed, the recipe booklet printed, and 30 people are about to recieve a box crammed with some of the most delightful herbal concoctions and confections I've ever laid eyes on. My timing wasn't great (for me, that is), but the results are well worth it!
So that's *part* of what I've been up to lately. There's a lot more, and I'll probably blather on about that at some point. Right now, my mantra is simply, "thank goodness we aren't doing the Farm Show this year!"

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gifts for the Soul

Gifts for the Soul
This article is reprinted from the Nov/Dec '03 issue of The Essential Herbal magazine.
Herbals gifts that are good for the heart.
Every year around this time we find ourselves searching for that special homemade herbal gift to give our friends & relatives. I’ve been told by all who receive my gifts that they love homemade gifts the best. Sometimes I wonder if it’s true, I believe it is. The love and care that goes into preparing these crafts is sure to be heartfelt by the recipient.
In this day and age it is hard to find the time for ourselves. Pampering and relaxing is becoming a lost art. I find it hard to take my own advice sometimes, however I make every attempt to find time for me. And so I’ve been inspired for delightful Herbal Facial and Bath relaxation kits for Christmas gifts.
Hopefully you’ve worked hard to dry those herbs that grew so lushly this year. They will come in handy when making your gift packages.
Let’s go over a few things that may be of interest first. The skin is the efficient body covering that protects our inner parts and guards their processes, gauges our temperature needs and reflect internal disorders. It is easy to care for and responsive to good treatment. Taking care of our face & skin can be relaxing and rewarding. It can be done with natural ingredients and no chemicals. Here are some wonderful recipes to get started with a beauty regimen and will be great packaged into a holiday basket or box for gift giving.
One of the main reasons for preparing your own beauty treatments is to have fresh, unpreserved ingredients. Remember to make a note with the directions that cosmetics made from these items are just as perishable as though they had been prepared for a meal. Make small quantities at a time and it is best to keep any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Cleansing Mask:
4 tablespoons rolled oats
2 teaspoons dried chamomile
2 teaspoons dried parsley
Blend the dried ingredients to a fine powder using a blender or coffee grinder. Package these in a pretty glass or plastic container and add the following directions*.
*Measure 1 tablespoon of the dried ingredients into a small glass bowl. Add 1 tablespoon honey and 1-2 tablespoons very hot water and mix well. Let stand 5 minutes. If mixture seems to thick add a small amount of hot water. Apply to face using gently circular motions and leave on for 2-5 minutes. Rinse face with warm water. Store unused cleanser in refrigerator and use within 5 days .(Chamomile and parsley are antibacterial and honey & oatmeal are softening.)
An extra touch would be adding a nice jar of honey to the basket.
Follow the cleansing mask with a nice steam facial:

Herbal Steam Facial:
2 tablespoons dried chamomile
2 tablespoons dried comfrey
2 tablespoons rose petals
2 tablespoons dried peppermint
2 tablespoons dried rose geranium
Mix above ingredients all together and package into a nice plastic bag or pretty container and add the following directions*.
*Measure 2 tablespoons of the herbs into a small saucepan and simmer in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. Pour into a heatproof bowl. Bend over the bowl with a towel draped over your head and allow steam to touch your face and neck for up to 10 minutes. Pat dry.

Follow the steam facial with this toner:
Lavender Toner:
4 ounces of witch hazel
15 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops chamomile essential oil
Mix all together and pour into a nice container with a flip top spout and attach the following*.
*Apply to clean face with a cotton ball. This helps your skin to return to its normal pH level.

Finally end your facial with moisturizer:

Lavender Geranium moisturizer:
4 ounces of unscented lotion base
10 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops geranium essential oil
Mix all together and pour into a plastic container with a flip top spout or wide mouth small jar. Add a nice label and of course you can use other essential oils. Please make sure you are familiar with the special qualities of the EO before deciding to use them. Using purchased unscented lotion base just gives the lotion a longer shelf life.
*Apply to cleansed and toned face nightly.

Here are two recipes for bath items to add to your basket. If you want to make your gift a little more special add a votive candle and perhaps a soothing CD or cassette tape.

Soothing Bath Salts:
2 cups Epsom salts
20-30 drops of your favorite essential oil. Lavender or Grapefruit are good bath choices.
Place salts into a canning jar and drop in the essential oil. Put on lid and shake, shake, shake it up well. This can be packaged right in the jar itself with a pretty ribbon or piece of raffia tied around the lid. Add a nice label with these instructions*.
*After filling up the tub with comfortably warm water, add ½ to 1 cup of the bath salts. Stir around with your feet then sit in, relax and enjoy!

Herbal Bath Tea:
½ cup dried lavender flowers
½ cup dried lemon balm
½ cup dried chamomile flowers
½ cup dried rose petals
Mix all ingredients together and package into small muslin sacks (3” x 3”). Tie a ribbon around the stack of 4 and give with the following directions*.
*Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the pouch of herb tea. Let steep for 30 minutes. Draw a nice warm bath. Just before stepping in, pour in bath “tea” along with the pouch of herbs. Relax as long as you want in this wonderful bath. Rub the pouch of herbs on your skin for added pleasure.

There you have it. The fun part is putting it all together in a basket. Add some pretty dried flowers, herbs or pinecone and spices. It will be sure to please. Don’t forget to make at least one extra basket of goodies for yourself. Take time to relax! Theresa Nolt