Thursday, August 28, 2008

Almost September! Harvest! Quick!!!

This morning I feel determined to write *something*. One of my best friends (since Jr. High!) wrote last night and wondered if everything was alright since the there was nothing new on the blog for so long. Way to kick my butt, Patty :-).
This time of year gets so hectic. Besides all the things that go on inside the house, like getting the kid off for her first day as a senior today - sob! - the things going on outside are driving me to distraction. Suddenly I realize that if it isn't gathered and preserved now, it will be gone until sometime next year. Things like plantain and jewelweed are used for products that are needed before they are big enough to use next spring. The elderberries are are turning just about dark enough to pick --- when the birds eat them. We have a constant battle going on. If I pick them just at dusk, they will have had a whole day to deepen, and it seems that the birds feed in the morning.
All of the sudden, everything is ripe or just about to go to seed or drop seeds.
The garden is pathetic, but occasionally I go out and kick a clod of dirt and mutter to myself.

Right now I'm looking out the window at the roving band of banty chickens on the hillside. It is a good 100 - 150 yards away, but there is a optical illusion caused by the way the hills and valleys make things appear. The chickens are on the next rise over, so they appear closer. Anyhow, there are several generations of these cute little fowl. My sister calls them the kids, the teenagers, and the grown up. There is also a gang of babies, but they don't go up on the hill yet.
They wander among the rows of trees, and it is a funny sight. First thing this morning Molly and I were standing at the window watching and laughing. The funniest part is that the guineas have decided that they want to be chickens too. The pale guinea doesn't want to hang around the gray one anymore. They were 2 peas in a pod for years. But the pale one thinks she's a chicken and the poor gray one stands in my yard plaintively calling for her friend who pretends to be deaf to her call.

Below is a picture I took a couple of weeks ago of some of the tobacco in a farm field in the other end of the county. Tobacco seems to be coming back as a crop here. Locally, the tobacco grown is for cigar wrappers. As kids we tried it a time or two (I believe we used notebook paper - gag) and believe me, it is different. But the farmers "top" it when the blossoms begin to appear.
After seeing the price that tobacco absolute is going for, perhaps I should talk to one of these guys and ask them to save the flowers for me. Wouldn't THAT be fun to distill!?!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

signs of the impending change of seasons

A day or so ago, on a walk it became obvious that autumn is breathing down summer's back. It seems a little early, being just the beginning of August, but these are just little glimmers among all the brilliant flowers and summer growth that is much more noticeable.
Along one row of trees, I've been noticing a couple of them are covered with cones. Way too many to be desirable for a Christmas tree I'd think. A few among the ornaments look pretty cool, but this is just ... well... odd! They probably draw a lot of energy from the plant. Isn't that absurd?Just to give you some idea of scale, this tree is about 7 feet tall, and the cones are anywhere from 3 to 4 inches long. I never noticed that this particular type of cones are sheathed (the green coating) and they open from the bottom. It's easier to see on the photo below. The one on the top right reminds me of a cicada or a butterfly chrysalis. Most open to resemble something like a bell shape until the sheath is completely gone.
Here we have a tiny pin-oak growing up through the branches of a fir tree. Of all the oaks, the leaves of the pin oak are the most appealing to me, and the young pinkish red leaves are almost difficult to resist picking. No explanation, just an observation. Besides, isn't this where Pinocchio came from?

Next I found a group of poke berries that give a very clear view of what they look like in the various stages. In particular, notice the magenta stems and the way they resemble Cinderella's pumpking right up until they turn black/purple, at which time they lose the scalloping and become smooth as old tires.
Last is a blown-up flower spike of sour dock. This is 3 to 4 times larger than the actual spike to show some detail of the flowers. Generally the flowers are so small that they are inconspicuous. The color dries to a deep red or maroon - sometimes other colors too - like greens, pinks, and rusts. They can be gathered to create a gorgeous wreath!
There are many other interesting things growing out there that give no inkling of the coming winter, but there is always a reminder, always the quiet tick tocking telling us that the world keeps moving. Everything keeps changing.

See? This hummingbird sage is just killing me with the stunning colors it produces. The leaves are a deep chartreuse. One of my favorite summer plants, simply because it is so pretty.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Essential Herbal ~ September/October 2008

The next issue is in the mail, and it is such a great fall issue! We have articles on various herb crafts - from making tinctures to harvest soaps, several great recipes, gardening information, book reviews, and enough projects and ideas to make us almost look forward to the waning sun. Take a look at the table of contents below! TABLE OF CONTENTS

Crossword Puzzle - A little botanical nomenclature.
Field Notes from the Editor
Suburban Herbie, Obsessive Gardening - Geri Burgert
Dia de los Muertos - Betsy May
List Article - Winter Preparations
Simple Tincture Making at Home - Sarah Campbell
Down on the Farm, Seed Saving - Michele Brown and Pat Stewart
Book Review Unlikely Lavender Queen - Cindy Jones
Colours of Autumn, Mrs. S.J. Head
Book Review, The Priestess of the Forest - Sarah Campbell
SouthRidge Treasures, Horseradish - Mary Ellen Wilcox
Tealight Tutorial - Abbie Sewell
The Soap Pot, Harvest Soap - Alicia Grosso
Louisiana Lagniappe, Mushroom & Eggplant Pie - Sarah Liberta
Never Enough Thyme, Sunchokes - Susanna Reppert
Rebooting Your Brain - Susan Evans
Stuffed Shirts - Sue-Ryn Burns
The Twisted Sisters Tour~4 Days, 3 Cities! - Tina Sams

Sunday, August 03, 2008

We're back - and planning some winter tea

The ocean was beautiful, and the temps along the coast quite a bit cooler than our inland weather. It was so nice to go away and not be hauling the still or giving talks on various topics - just being away with my sweetie :-).
We got home to find that our blog was locked up. Fortunately Blogger figured out the problem quickly so that we can go on posting!
Last night Molly and I cleared the garden of weeds (again!). It has been a while, and it showed. Still, we have the best conversations while we are each working on a row, just talking companionably. I realized while we were out there that it is time to start working on the Winter Tea. This is a project that gives us pleasure all year long. The planting, planning, and gathering is a big part of the fun. Learning new plants and testing them out for flavor, making sure to find certain wild plants during the season, and finding surprises and volunteers is all part of the process.
As the season progresses, we'll gather and dry smallish amounts of many different herbs/weeds. They will all be mixed together into a large "batch" from which we will take portions to brew up pots of flavorful, healthful tea during the cold months.
Anyone can do it, and every potful comes out just a little differently than the last.
Some choices that we will be drying and mixing:
Echinacea, all parts of the plant
Dandelion root
Chicory root
Mints - Apple, Chocolate, Peppermint, Meadow Mint, Mountain Mint
Bee Balm
Raspberry Leaf and Fruit
Basils - Purple, Cinnamon, Holy
Comfrey (yes, we choose to use it in tea...don't tell anyone)
Red Clover
Vitex Berries
Oat Seeds
Fennel Seeds
Hyssop Flowers
Rosa Rugosa petals and hips
As you can see, the list goes on and on. There are many more that we'll add, and some - like Nettle, Chickweed, Violet Leaves and Flowers, and St. John's Wort - that were gathered earlier in the year for this purpose. We'll add a few things that don't grow here... like Cinnamon Chips, Star Anise, and perhaps a few Cloves. Bits of Vanilla Bean and Cardamom Seeds are delicious too. Each person will choose to add or delete different ingredients, depending on what they like and what grows nearby.

You can use this same process to gather Bathing Herbs for the coming winter. Adding some Oatmeal and Sea Salt will help the skin stay hydrated and smooth in the cold weather.

The Sept/Oct issue will be delivered tomorrow or the next day, so today is a good day to get the decks cleared before we start the rigorous process of labeling, sorting, and sacking the mailing. I'll be out wandering in the woods and fields!