Tuesday, April 29, 2008

End of April on the hill

The beautiful stuff outside is changing every single day. I can scarcely manage to see it all. Just feeling the sun and gazing at the array of greens (how many shades can there be?) is invigorating and exciting. This time of year is just so amazing and inspiring! It took a while to get the proofs completed for Under the Sun, and we still have a good week or two until the next deadline for The Essential Herbal comes up, so I am enjoying this time.
AND the Mount Joy Farmers Market opens on the third, AND the Landis Valley Herb Faire is the following week... so one gathers ones rosebuds while one may :-).
These tulips were planted by my mother. Every spring when they come up, they remind me of lipstick. I'm not a make-up-wearing kind of gal, but this particular color may one day change my mind about that. These bulbs have managed to escape the voracious appetites of the resident groundhogs (with whom I am currently doing battle, using fresh mountain mint and the essential oil of peppermint), unlike some of the daffodils, hyacinths, and the entire plants of the delphiniums. In the next shot you can make out the fence I've erected for this year's attempt to protect my berries from the blasted beasts.

Here you see the view from the deck, looking down over the valley, and the red soap and jewelry studio. You might be able to make out the posts from the new fence which houses the new baby pygmy goats that have made themselves at home, clinging to the craggy bank among the 20 or so (hopefully safe) rugosa rosebushes. At the very far left edge of the picture, there are trees blossoming in pink. They are the new hazelnut trees, and interspersed between them are the bayberry bushes. That is the path I walk to work with my sister on most days. Soon the hillsides surrounding those plants will be ablaze with poppies, echinacea, yarrow, and cornflowers, along with many other wildflowers whose names I can't remember right this minute.
The white lilac outside my bedroom window is in bloom, and the scent wafts into the room when the windows are open. It is a large bush, and the branches are covered with gorgeous, fragrant blossoms. Soon the vitex situated next to the lilac will bush out, but it will take a few months for the spectacular periwinkle flowers to form.

It's been a busy couple of weeks here, and you can tell by my lack of posts.
My friend Geri Burgert's son sent me "Flat Stanley", a cut-out character from a children's book, and Stan and I have been out having some fun adventures too. Maybe I'll post his travel story when it's done, although I must admit that my imagination is running wild. I have to keep reminding myself that this is for young children.
On another note, I received my copy of Marge Clark's new book - Essential Oils and Aromatics (available at Naturesgift.com). This is really a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in learning more about essential oils and responsible ways to use them for hearth, home, and health. Lots of information, a good number of recipes, and how-tos, all wrapped up in a gorgeous hard-bound book.
Off to enjoy some more spring!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Essential Herbal gets a review :-) etc.

We were reviewed on this blog and it was so nice, I wanted to share it. Rachel has been a long-time subscriber, and has sent recipes and articles on occasion. Stop over and read what she has to say!

Yesterday Maryanne and I were at the Health Fair in Hanover. Our friend Marty Webster was one of the organizers, and although first year fairs are notorious stinkers, we wanted to go set up, be supportive... see what was shaking.

When I look back on my life someday, this will be another one of those 36 - 48 hour "we must be crazy" dream sequences. The short version was finishing the cover and getting the book to the printer... putting together the Friday night family dinner... searching the fields for spearmint under the moonlit skies (for a distillation demo yesterday)... putting together a talk on index cards....short sleep... pack the car... set up booth... set up still and get her cooking... give talk... sell stuff... pack up car... come home to hungry family... unload the car... feed said family... crash.
In between there were lots of emails and phone calls and normal everyday stuff.

The fair itself was very successful for a first time event. There was a good line waiting to get in at opening time, and the line-up of speakers kept most people there all day long. The Wild Foods for Every Table book was a huge hit, and I got some pre-release sales for Under the Sun. A bonus was coming home to find that the website had been busy working while I was gone :-). I wish I had taken Molly along because Marty brought her French foreign exchange student (Matilde) of approximately the same age. I suspect the two of them would have had a great time together and could have learned some language from each other.

Today I plan on finding some order here in the office. Lots of unanswered emails await, piles of paperwork, and (sigh) laundry are beginning to make me a little freaked out. A couple of good solid hours of work should set everything back into position.

Thankfully the past few days of exquisite spring weather have given way to clouds and a chill, so that temptation isn't quite as strong.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Essential Herbal - Under the Sun!!!

After 6 months of editing, the next book is finally off to the printer. I am not sure I could be any more excited! Read on to find out how you can take advantage of my slightly altered state :-).
We are in the 7th year of publication here at The Essential Herbal Magazine. The first several years were filled with wonderful stuff, but the audience was very limited. Most of those issues sold out long ago. So we took the 15 spring and summer issues from those 5 years (Mar/Apr, May/June, and July/Aug), and put them together into a truly fabulous book. Over 200 pages, sized 8.5 x 11, filled with all the things readers have come to expect from The Essential Herbal. Internal pages are b&w, and it will be paperback bound.
We reworked some of the early stuff, combined things into reasonable chapters - like "The Stillroom", "The Kitchen", "Just Weeds", and "Herbal First Aid", and added a few surprises. There are articles on gardening, favorite backyard remedies, wild eats, and tons of crafting ideas.
The book will begin shipping on May 12. Between now and May 7th, we'll run a special on the shopping cart. Pre-order now, and instead of the regular price of $24.95 (plus $3.00 for shipping), the book will be just $20!
Hurry and take a 20% discount.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Essential Herbal - May/June 2008

The next issue is starting to reach subscribers, so it's about time I get it posted! If you aren't familiar with The Essential Herbal, click on the link on the sidebar to download a free issue from last year. It will give you a good idea of what we do around here.
The new issue was such a pleasure to put together. It's always so much fun to see what comes in, but the spring issues are so exciting! Additionally, I got to interview my friends at The Rosemary House to celebrate their 40 YEARS in business.
It started as just an easy idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how instrumental the Repperts are and have been to the herb community as a whole. It was a great honor to include this interview, just as it has been an honor to consider Susanna and Nancy friends along with the entire Reppert/Brill clan.
Their mother was Bertha Reppert, a strong and energetic woman with the ability to impress an enormous group of people to embrace herbs and to share that love of plants. She influenced people all over the world, and in my part of the world she influenced how herb businesses interact. The PA herb businesses that have become old friends are open with their knowledge, sharing, and helpful towards each other. That was Bertha's doing, and her daughters continue that attitude. We are very lucky to have that here, and I expect that it reaches far beyond my scope of friends. If you haven't come across Bertha's books, you are missing a treat! Visit The Rosemary House on-line and take a gander.

But of course, that's not all... Here's the table of contents for the newest issue:

Wordfind Puzzle - Into the Garden
Field Notes from the Editor
Suburban Herbie - The New Garden, Geri Burgert
All in the Family - 40 Years in Herbs, Tina Sams
Healthy Garlic, Joe Smulevitz
Down on the Farm - Springing into the Growing Season, Michele Brown & Pat Stewart
List Article - First Herbal Experience
SouthRidge Treasures - Brightening Foods with Edible Flowers, Mary Ellen Wilcox
The Soap Pot - Lemon & Mint Soaps, Alicia Grosso
Getting Ready for Summer, Herbal First Aid & Travel Kit, Betsy May
Much Ado About Nothings, Sue-Ryn Burns
Never Enough Thyme - The Herb of Angels, Susanna Reppert Brill
With Seeds of Intention, Marita A. Orr
Louisiana Lagniappe - Microwave Lemon Curd, Sarah Liberta
Al Fresco Dining - Sensational Summer Salads, Susan Evans
Nettles, Kristena Roder

See? Lots of really great stuff! And yes, we did have to add 4 pages again. Someday I'll get a grip on how to whittle it down to the regular (hah!) 32 pages again.

Monday, April 14, 2008

First April Walk in the Woods - '08

I have been wanting to visit the woods for over a week now, but things kept getting in the way. Getting the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal mailed out was one of them, amidst an avalanche of others. Over the weekend when we were traveling to and fro, I noticed that marsh marigolds and something that *might* have been dutchman's breeches were catching my glance while we whipped along on the back roads.
So this morning after doing a few necessary things, I donned my hoodie and sneakers and grabbed the camera, past the pond with the mallards and frogs jumping at my approach, and headed into the woods.
The area was rich with natives when my sister and her husband bought it, and since that time we've been adding a little here and there. In the spring, I feel like a mother checking on her sleeping babes. Sometimes I'll gently pull back some leaf cover to take a peek at what's going on underneath. This year that wasn't necessary, as things are getting into full gear without my nudgings (as they always would - I'm just to anxious to wait sometimes).
I was a little surprised to see the bloodroot blooming all along the hillside across the stream. It took me about 30 seconds to get my feet wet and get the first splashes of mud up the back of my jeans. After all the rain we've had, another surprise was finding the stream shallow, but much wider. Last year I waited about a week too long and missed all but a few blossoms. The foliage is stunning too, but the flowers! Sigh....
Everywhere the jewelweed was starting to push up the first sets of leaves. It is easy to spot once you know it. The leaves are almost a blue-ish green, with a pale cast. In another couple of weeks there will be plenty for fresh soapmaking, but fortunately we stored plenty in the freezer so we'd have a good supply cured for the spring shows and wholesale orders.
The Mayapples are just starting to come up. The way they erupt from the ground is almost prehistoric to me. Little knobs pop up, and then get taller, finally opening up like an umbrella. If you look closely at the picture, you can see several stages of unfurling going on.
Next up was one of the trillium patches. Every year I try to add another plant or two in a different spot. This year I'd like to put them across the creek, where they would probably naturalize better. That bank hosts the most diverse plant life, so it probably would be a better (if more difficult to reach) home. These are my pet project. The clumps keep growing and it just fills my heart with joy to see them.
It would seem likely that sweet violets would be growing like crazy down there, but such is not the case. Only on the path where we walk do they grow. Not in large clumps, either... but single little plants glistening among the leaves from last fall. This year I did notice one area with a good colony. It just happens to be in the one area where we don't stick around long. There is a tree that has fallen against another, leaning precariously above the pathway for several years now. Right beneath that fall zone is a healthy group of violets, more than I've ever seen before. Made me smile to think that they are teasing me there.

The spotted, smooth foliage of the trout lily, or dog-toothed violet is everywhere, carpeting the entire woodland. Only 2 were blooming this morning. Each year the first to bloom are at the base of a particular tree, nestled in amongst the roots of the tree. I always know that if they are blooming, that will be the place to find them. Sure enough, there they were, blooming several days ahead of the rest. In another week, the forest will be alive with these glorious beauties.
Wonder of wonder, the dutchman's breeches came back again. It took me a while to find them, as a tree had fallen down the bank and obscured them from my view. But all of the clumps we put in two years ago have come back. Only one of them was blooming, and I am hoping that we were early. We're thinking of squeezing in a trip to Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve later this week. They should be rampant there! Another week would probably be better, and we'd see more if we waited.

We put in two different varieties of wild ginger. The first is shiny, glossy, beautiful leathery leaves. This patch is several feet in diameter, and while the deer seem to enjoy munching on it, the plant doesn't appear to be any worse the wear. There were a few blooms under the leaves, but they are small and point towards the earth, making them difficult to see, much less photograph with a Kodak Easyshare.
The second variety has a little bit of fuzz to the leaf, and the tips of the leaves are more pointed. The stems are completely covered with this fuzz, and that will last all year long. This plant has the more classically shaped wild ginger blossoms. Although this one hasn't opened up completely, they are cup-shaped with pointed ends jutting out in four different directions. The color is scrumptious and unique. I adore them, and last year attempted to preserve one in resin. Not a great result, but I'm not giving up just yet.

Finally it was time to go back up towards the house. I had to pass Maryanne's (and stop in to finish wrapping an order of soap for delivery today...). Along the way, her driveway was ablaze with daffodils and tulips. I layed down on the warm macadam and looked closely at the different forms.

Spring is the best. It makes winter worthwhile. It reminds us of everything good in the world and fills us with hope and renewal.
The first 10 or 15 walks in the woods each year are my favorite things to do all year. No matter how many times I see these things, each year it is like seeing old friends for the first time in a very long time. I have missed them tremendously!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Herb Festival Season - At Last

I'm so spoiled living here in So. Central PA. There are so many really great herbal events in the spring that one needs to plan carefully to avoid missing the favorites, and even then it is impossible to visit them all. Herbal Nirvana!
We started the season off vending at the PA Herb Festival this past Friday and Saturday. There were over 75 vendors and so many cool things to see. My favorite part is visiting with the other herb vendors and getting to see lots of subscribers in person.
We get to know each other so well via the Yahoo list and emails, but it is so much fun to meet and jabber.

Something interesting happened this year. We are usually completely organized. We have everything packed and ready to go days before an event, so that we can arrive, set up, and enjoy the show. Not this time.
The week before, we spent a good part of every day at the hospital with our brother. The next issue of the magazine sat in boxes around the living room, and every day I'd tab another box or two. We crammed a couple of hours of show prep into each day somewhere... On Thursday he was released. That night the computer didn't want to print out the mailing labels, but after several anxious hours we accomplished that - and got them all labeled and ready for sacking. They got to the post office at opening time, while Maryanne loaded the car for the show.
We didn't have lots of stuff. There wasn't much we could do about it. But everything that was really essential was there. And it STILL went off without too many hitches!

But to give you a little glimpse into the state of my thought processes over the last week or so.......
I drink coffee in the morning. Every day for the last several years, there has been a carton of half and half in the exact same space on the exact same shelf. Nobody else uses it. Just me.
On Friday morning I opened the refrigerator and saw an empty space. I searched everywhere, including the trash can. Nothing.
Last night when we got home, I started to put something in the microwave but there was already something in there. The carton of half and half.

Today is mine! All the deadlines are met, all the commitments completed for the moment.
Next Saturday we'll be at The Natural Healthfest in Hanover PA... but that's WAY off :-).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Notorious Nightshades - Part 2, with Susan Wittig Albert

We are pleased to welcome Susan Wittig Albert as a guest on The Essential Herbal blog today! Many of you are familiar with Susan's mysteries, and know they are laced with herb lore and intrique. If you are not, it's about time you found out what you've been missing. Be warned, you will want to read them all (and you'll love each one!). Without further ado, we give you Susan...

A huge thanks to Tina, for being my host at Essential Herbal today, and welcome to blog readers! Thanks for joining us.

If you’re just joining us, this blog tour celebrates the launch of Nightshade, the sixteenth China Bayles mystery. China is a former criminal defense attorney who traded life in the fast lane for a quieter life as the owner of an herb shop in Pecan Springs TX. The garden isn’t always peaceful, however, and China keeps turning up mysteries. In Nightshade, the mystery centers on China’s father, who died in an auto accident 16 years before—and on China’s recently discovered half-brother Miles, who seems to have some shadowy secrets up his sleeve.

Each of China’s mysteries has a plant theme. Today’s post is the second of two posts about the plant family that lends Nightshade its name. If you missed Part One, you can read it here.

The Notorious Nightshades, Part Two

Over the centuries, the nightshade family (over two thousand species of annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, and even small trees) has gotten a very bad rap.
But this is a pity, because the nightshades rank high on the list of plants that humans find extremely useful. Did you know that the potato is a nightshade? And tomatoes, chile peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos? People have been eating and loving (or in some cases, hating) nightshades for a very, very long time!

But nightshades aren’t just good-tasting, they’re good-looking, as well. And chances are that you’ve been growing several ornamental species in your garden, whether you know it or not.

The Delightful Nightshades

If you’ve got petunias, you’ve got nightshades! Brought to Europe from South America in the early part of the nineteenth century, the petunia immediately captured the attention of hybridists. Now, through the magic of plant breeding, we can obtain fringed, doubled, and ruffled petunias in an amazing range of colors and markings, for garden beds or hanging baskets.

You may be growing another ornamental nightshade for its sweet evening fragrance. Nicotiana, also known as flowering tobacco, is the perfect plant to grow beside a porch or patio where you're likely to linger in the evenings. This annual also attracts hummingbirds. Desert Tropicals has some good information about nicotiana, lovely old cottage-garden flower.

Other beautiful nightshades, Datura and Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet), have a more troubling reputation. While they delight us with their stunning flower trumpets, these plants contain significant levels of the tropane alkaloids atropine and scopalomine and have a long history of use in various cultures as medicines, ritual hallucinogens, and deadly poisons. I have too often seen these plants offered for sale in nurseries, with no “be careful!” notice. And too many nursery employees don’t have a clue about the toxic properties of the plants they’re selling. If you grow these beautiful but dangerous nightshades, do so responsibly, please, and guard against their misuse.

The Deadly Nightshades

Like any large family, the nightshade clan includes some very bad actors. It’s this side of the Solanum family—the dark side—that has given these herbs such an evil reputation.

Of all the plants in human use, few are regarded with as much fear as the Solanacae trio: deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger). In antiquity, surgeons used these plants as narcotics, but their high levels of tropane alkaloids also made them the weapons of choice when it came to murder. In the Middle Ages, these nightshades were used to induce the hallucinations associated with the practice of witchcraft and sorcery. Numerous superstitions surround all three plants, and their poisonous properties are legendary.

However, deadly nightshade remains the chief source of scopolamine (in some countries, mixed with morphine for use as an anesthetic in childbirth) and atropine, used by ophthalmologists to dilate the pupil of the eye and in the treatment of heart attacks. Atropine is stockpiled by the U.S. military and some hospitals as an antidote for biological and chemical poisons. While we must be careful of these deadly plants, we must also respect them for their powerful medicinal qualities.

The Deadliest Nightshade

From a broad cultural point of view, the deadliest nightshade of all is tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), which contains the tropane alkaloid nicotine.

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease, cigarette smoke is responsible for some 438,000 premature deaths each year in the United States alone, while smoking-related healthcare and lost productivity are estimated to cost our nation over 167 billion dollars a year. Globally, it is predicted that by 2020, the use of tobacco will account for some 10 million cancer deaths each year. Tobacco, regarded by its original American Indian users as a sacred plant with magical powers and by sixteenth century Europeans as a medicinal panacea, is now understood to be a dangerously addictive carcinogenic herb—the deadliest nightshade of all.

I hope you’ll find the nightshades such a fascinating family of plants that you’ll want to learn as much as you can about them. And I hope you’ll enjoy the China Bayles mystery, Nightshade, as well. If you’d like to sample the novel, you can read the first chapter here.

Thanks for joining me on this blog tour, and a big thank-you to Tina for hosting me today! I’ll be around to answer your questions and comments, so let’s continue our conversation!
UPDATE - March 25, 2009. Susan Wittig Albert has recreated the blog tour, but this time, the book is Wormwood, steeped in the herbal traditions of the Shaker community, another (the 17th!) delicious tale of the adventures of China Bayles. To enter the drawing, please visit this link - http://www.abouthyme.com/drawing_0325.php
Thanks - and good luck!

About the book drawing and Susan’s blog tour

If you’d like to enter the drawing for a copy of Nightshade go here to register. But do it now, before you forget. The drawing for The Essential Herbal closes at noon on April 12, 2008.
Want to read the other posts in Susan’s blog tour? You’ll find a calendar and links here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Making and Using Herb Vinegars

The book "Making and Using Herb Vinegars" is another compilation from readers and friends of The Essential Herbal Magazine. Did you ever want to know how to make delicious (and nutritious) vinegars using herbs you're growing, or the ones showing up at the produce departments in the grocery stores? And then, once you've made them, what can you do with them? Well we've got some answers and some luscious recipes for you to try. This little book is jammed with the experise of over 20 fabulous cooks and herbalists. The novice will find instruction and the expert will find inspiration.
The following recipe is a favorite here on the hill....
First you'll need to make some hot pepper vinegar. Use white wine or apple cider vinegar (we like apple cider vinegar for this one) and pour it into a pan with hot peppers. For a quart of vinegar, use about a cup of peppers. We've used dried peppers or fresh depending on the season, and whatever hot peppers were available. Heat the vinegar to almost boiling and keep it at a low simmer for 5 minutes.
Fill a large clean bottle about 1/4 way with peppers. When the vinegar has cooled, strain it and pour it inot the bottle. Allow the vinegar to ripen for 2 weeks and it will have a nice kick.
now here's the recipe:
Garlic Chicken
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts
1/2 c hot pepper vinegar
2 T vegetable oil
2 T honey
15 cloves of garlic, peeled and split
1 oz. soy sauce
Wash chicken and cut in half. Brown in vegetable oil in a heavy skillet. Add garlic and cook a little longer - until browned. Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until chicken is done and glazed with sauce. Turn chicken several times while cooking. Delicious!
Note: We usually cut the chicken into small, bitesized pieces so there is more surface area to catch all the flavor.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Fairy Home Companion

"Fairy Home Companion" is another one of the books we've compiled here at The Essential Herbal. Inside this luscious little book, are all kinds of recipes, crafting instructions, gardening ideas, and original works of fairy fiction for anyone who adores the wee fae folke. This litte gem of a book will give you plenty of ideas to ponder. You'll know which flowers to plant, how to keep the fairies safe once they've gotten cozy in your garden, and what they'd like to eat. Step into the garden with us and believe!

Below, I'm posting the recipes that were submitted by my sweet friend Sarah Liberta for the book. A link to Sarah's blog is along the side somewhere over there >>>>.

by Sarah Liberta

My friend Artie Lyons calls this her twenty-minute cake. She says, “With supplies on hand, if a friend calls to say she’s coming over, I can have a cake ready by the time she arrives.” We love it with a colorful assortment of fresh flowers strewn over the lush white cream frosting, but when flowers are scarce, the petals of a single rose or a calendula will do just fine.

1 frozen pound cake (16 oz.), defrosted
1 pint whipping cream
1/3 C sugar
2 T raspberry or strawberry jam or preserves
1 T framboise or strawberry liqueur
1 C mixed fresh edible flowers, washed and dried on paper towels

Put whipping cream, mixing bowl and beaters into freezer to chill a few minutes. Slice the cake horizontally into three equal layers and place bottom layer on serving platter. Put preserves in a small dish and heat in microwave for 30 seconds or until melted; stir in liqueur. Whip cream with sugar until firm. Brush 1/2 of fruit mixture over cut side of cake; top with about 3/4 cup of whipped cream; spread evenly. Top with middle layer; repeat with fruit and cream. Put top layer in place and cover entire cake with remaining cream, using spatula to make swirls. Scatter flowers and petals over top and sides and around the base of cake. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for a few hours.

Variation: For a different look and flavor, add 1/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa to cream and sugar before whipping. Fold into whipped cream one 6-ounce package of butter toffee bits, less 2/3 cup of toffee. Use apricot jam and apricot brandy instead of raspberry or strawberry. When cake is covered with cocoa cream, sprinkle with remaining toffee bits. Decorate with golden-colored flowers and petals: calendula, sunflowers, lemon gem marigolds, Mexican mint marigold (Spanish tarragon).

Variation 2: After filling and stacking the layers, cut the pound cake down the middle lengthwise and then cut each half into 3 or 4 equal pieces, forming 6 or 8 mini-cakes. Cover each with cream and decorate with flowers. Or use your favorite pound cake recipe, bake in 8 mini-loaf pans (2” x 4”) and finish as above. Each mini-cake serves 2 tiny fairies.

Flowers that have a mild or slightly sweet flavor -- such as violets, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, pinks, and roses -- are especially lovely when prepared this way. With a supply of these on hand, you can turn the simplest packaged pudding into an elegant surprise.

1 C edible flowers, washed and dried on paper towels
powdered egg white or meringue powder, mixed with water to equal 1 egg white
1 C superfine sugar (or process regular sugar in the blender for a few seconds)

1 small artist’s paintbrush (unused)
sterilized tweezers or forceps
waxed paper

Line a tray or sheet pan with waxed paper, sprinkle with sugar (to keep flowers from sticking). Holding a single flower by the stem with tweezers or forceps, paint its entire surface with the egg mixture. Any area unpainted will turn brown. Sprinkle with sugar to coat thoroughly on both sides. Place on waxed paper to dry. Repeat until all flowers are coated with sugar. Allow to dry till crisp, which may take from several hours to several days, depending on size of flowers. Small flat flowers will dry rather quickly, while whole roses or other large flowers may take a few days to dry thoroughly. Store in an airtight container. Use to decorate cakes, petit fours, candies (truffles, fudge squares), puddings and other desserts.


1/2 C red rose petals
1 T lemon juice
1/2 C cranberry juice
2 C vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

Whirl rose petals in a blender for a few seconds with lemon and cranberry juices. Add ice cream and pulse a few times. Serve in stemmed glasses with fresh or candied rose petals for garnish.


Substitute 1/4 cup fresh open lavender blossoms (or 1 T dried buds) for the rose petals and grape juice for cranberry. Proceed as above, garnishing with lavender blossoms, violets or Johnny-jump-ups.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Blending Herbal Teas

I'm going to do a short series about the books we have put together at The Essential Herbal . Many of you know and receive the magazine, and from that we've combined several books.
The first one is "Blending Herbal Teas" and it is available on the website shop. Inside, you'll find instructions, information, and recipes from many herbalists and herb business owners.
Here is my intro from the booklet:

Tea goes by many names - tisane, infusion, decoction, simple, extraction, elixir, brew... and each word means a slightly different thing. It can get somewhat confusing, almost like learning about wines, but we will simplify the whole thing here and now.

All tea is herbal. Yep. That's right. All teas are made from botanicals steeped in liquid. Generally when we talk about "herbal teas" for which the proper term is tisane, we are excluding teas made from the various forms of Thea sinensis, or Camellia sinensis. Teas from these plants are what we are most familiar with... the grocery store teabags with which we grew up, the iced tea served in restaurants. However, since all plants are herbs, these teas are also herbal teas, and have been included in some of the recipes in the book. It will be referred to as black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea - all from the same plant, but processed differently. These teas will grow bitter if steeped more than 3-5 minutes, while other herbs rarely do. It is the tannins in this plant that cause the bitterness.

Herb leaves and flowers require 5 or more minutes of steeping (infusing), while seeds, roots, and barks can take up to 15 minutes of simmering on the stove (decocting) to get the flavor and medicinal properties properly drawn.

In my first spring and summer of seriously learning about foraging and wild crafting, I made a wonderful tea blend. While wandering through field, stream, woods, and mountainside, I would gather handfuls of different plants. After researching to be sure of their identity and properties, they would be dried on a screen and added to a large glass jar.

Now this particular jar of tea was truly wonderful. There were the usual suspects of course.... peppermint, chamomile, and leaves from strawberry and red raspberry. As the herb garden grew, a few leaves of sage, a sprig or two of thyme, basil, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and comfrey found their way into the jar. Violets and their foliage went in, as did the beautiful wild roses, elderflower and honeysuckle blossoms. As the bee balm began to bloom, a few heads were dried for the tea jar. Dried nettles and cleavers and echinacea leaves became part of the tea, and then some spices - star anise, ginger root, cardamom seed, cinnamon barks. Mid summer, raspberries, elderberries and bluberries were added along with gooseberry leaves. In the late part of the summer, I found and added rose hips.

Eventually I wound up with a gallon jar of really gorgeous dried botanicals. Each cup was completely different - in color, flavor, and scent. We had stevia and licorice root sticks on hand for sweetening, and for that winter friends visiting our home would look forward to a cup of that special tea - always a surprise, always delicious.

It was great fun creating that blend, and it was also a time of learning. By the end of that year it was clear that it is very difficult to make a bad cup of herbal tea, and "simple" to make a fabulous blend.

The purpose of telling this story is to encourage you to try making some blends of your own. Making teas with herbs has always been a part of the human culture. The folkloric use of herb teas is easy to find, and in this part of the country is still passed on from parents to children. Peppermint tea for upset stomachs, catnip and fennel to help the nursing mother, valerian root tea for sleeplessness, horehound or mullein for coughs, feverfew for migraines, sage tea for night sweats, ginger tea for morning sickness, slippery elm bark or marshmallow root for any digestive problem from lips to anus, chamomile for just about anything, St. John's wort for the blues, and the list goes on and on. We used these plants for centuries. Now there are warnings and issues of drug interactions and this or that might be a carcinogen. Comfrey is a wonderful healing plant, but it is labeled as dangerous. Ephedra was almost magical in helping people with asthma, but it has now been removed from shelves because some people used it to create an amphetamine-like product. Kava will probably be next. St. John's wort is hanging in there for now, but use is discouraged because it will interact with some pharmaceuticals. So does grapefruit, but the way... and there is such a thing as "water poisoning" from drinking too much water. Our advice? Use all things in moderation.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My body knows better than I do.

If you've been following along with the happenings on the hill, you know that we brought a very sick brother to live in (what my daughter calls) the family commune. We now have the households of three siblings and their grown or mostly grown children living on the farm.
We began this particular leg of the journey in November, and though he wasn't robust, he was a man who could fix himself a sandwich, do his own laundry, and basically take care of himself. He isn't an herb guy, and he'd chosen to follow a very rigorous regime of chemotherapy. My job was to watch over him and make sure that he ate nourishing foods and took his meds on schedule. He'd had a couple of rough patches and needed someone watching over him. We figured with the whole gang handy, there'd always be someone around to do that.
Construction began, and within 2 months we had a new abode for him, a brand new, fully functioning apartment that I sometimes coveted for my own :-).
Somewhere along the way, ever so gradually, things started changing. It was little stuff. He started sleeping more. He had a tough time getting food out of the kitchen for himself. He couldn't remember to do the everyday things that we all do without thinking. And before I knew it, he was sleeping 20 - 22 hours a day and needed to be reminded to eat or drink.
Looking at that paragraph, it would seem that anyone could see what was happening, but along the way we went to appointments, described the decline, and were reassured that this was not out of the ordinary. Everyday I struggled to get him to go outside, eat something, engage in life... but he wasn't interested.

Over the weekend, nothing really noticeable happened. Nothing remarkable. Except he looked gray. He has a furrow in his forehead that only shows up when he's very sick. His movements became painfully, incredibly slow. I called the doctor and followed instructions. He'd fallen the other day and was now complaining about soreness in his chest, sides, and back.

Sunday I started to notice a sore throat, but didn't have time to do anything about it. Every so often I'd slather some elderberry jelly on a piece of toast and pat myself on the back for keeping it at bay. There was no time to be sick, and that was that!

Yesterday we decided it was time to take him to the hospital. Again, no real big flashing light... just that things were not right. He got ready, and I called my sister to tell her we were ready.

Just like that, my head started thumping, and there was a sharp pain in my stomach. Within 10 minutes, I was feeling horrible, but figured it would pass. Off we went on our 15 minute trip. By the time we got to the hospital, I couldn't decide whether to pass out or throw up (choosing the latter). As soon as he was settled and the docs had the info they needed, Maryanne brought me home and went back with her son.

As it turns out, his electrolytes are whacked out and it is a pretty serious condition. They are working very hard to get him back in balance, and he'll probably be in the hospital for some time.

It may sound crazy, but the SECOND the responsibility of his care was lifted, my body stopped fighting. Literally within minutes, a bug that I'd been holding off for three days took over and clobbered me, rendering me a quivering blob of thick and dull uselessness. I have never experienced such a sudden and complete transformation.
It reminds me of the class we took with Barbara Good, when she told us that our bodies hear every word we say, and listen to what we are thinking. She told us to rise up each morning and state, "I feel GOOD today!"
I've followed that advice many times when there were bugs flying around at my old workplace, and it did seem to make a difference.
Others would say, "oh no... I'll be sick soon." and so they would be.
But sometimes, like when there is long-term extreme stress, I think you can talk until you're blue in the face and your body will still take a break if it needs one.

So now I'm slugging down the echinacea/elderberry/osha tea with lots of honey. My chest is covered with a salve full of penetrating oils. Unfortunately, my stomach protests to the smell of garlic right now, as it did when I was pregnant. No phone calls, and only the smallest amount of computer work. I lolled on the sofa most of the day watching a parade of talk shows, dozing off and on. If I weren't so sick, it would have been almost enjoyable.
In a couple of days I'll be fine, and I will pay a little more attention to the signs my own body is making from now on.