Friday, October 30, 2009

All Hallows

No matter what you believe, in the Autumn, our thoughts go to the cycles of life, the death (harvest) of the plants, and the hope for the renewal in the spring.
On a bright cheery afternoon last week we went to the Mount Bethel cemetery in Columbia PA to look up and visit some relatives. This place was founded in 1720, and although some find graveyards macabre, they are such a commentary on the human condition in times past. Styles have really changed. This cemetery contains no lasered photographs on monuments. All are hand carved.
Many, many of these memorials are for teens or younger children. As I walked, the sense of longing, sadness and love was palpable.
These towers and obelisks are so different from what we'd have today. There is much ornate carving, but many of the stones are sandstone, easily worn away within 100 - 150 years.
only daughter and first-born son...
We forget how lucky we are to have so many deadly childhood diseases irradicated or manageable today. That isn't a statement for OR against innoculations - it is simply an observation. Imagine the terror parents felt the instant a child ran a fever.
I could imagine a loved one running their hand over the flowers on this monument, or sitting upon the front part, which is fashioned like a small bed, or chaise lounge.
Although the families of these people are mostly gone themselves, we can still mourn with them as we pass. Notice the "m's" on the stone below... they resemble the willow tree motif that is often used.
On the base of the pedastal at the foot of this stone, "we love you still".
This gentleman was a poet, writer, and it would seem from the writings on all four sides of his obelisk, much loved by the community as well as his family.

No explanation needed....This celtic cross was about 10 feet tall.

So much of the carving was gone from the stone that it was unreadable.
No age given. No years. Just "our boy".
This one held me for a long time. Mary was 9. Her parents are nearby, and she is the only child with them.
For some reason, this struck me as if to say, "hey! wait a minute, I have something more to say..."

This long row of tablet style graves and those like this used to terrify me as a child, as I assumed that the body was above ground. It was just another style of monument.
An angel watches over.
Again, I chuckled at this tiny obelisk. In the tradition and style of the soaring 10, 12, and 25 foot giants in the nearby background, this perfect little stone was for a child.

A wee lamb nestled in beside a tree stump. One of my favorite styles, but worn almost beyond recognition.
This little lamb will also wear away before too long. It is only from 1922 - relatively new in gravestone years.

So we walked, and we mourned, and we laughed. In some instances, we nearly cried. I suppose that in many cases, the only trace that these people existed is these stones. Now we have photographs, paperwork, and so many "footprints". But for these people, it is just the stone.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scents of the Fall

Scents of the Fall

As All Hallows Eve arrives, shall we share a little fallity. Fallness. Fallsomnity? Well. You know. 

 In Autumn, the scents of flowers and grasses give way to the fragrances of dry, burning leaves, bales of hay, pumpkins (and the spices that make it a pie!), and various fruits. It is the harvest, and the harvest smells wonderful. Traditionally we long for the warmth of the spicy smells of the kitchen as the leaves turn and the air carries a nip. 

A delightfully simple way to bring these spicy notes into your home is to mull some apple cider. The rich apple blends with cinnamon, orange, and cloves to warm up the whole house.

Free Apple Cider Mulled Wine photo and picture

Mulled Apple Cider

½ gallon apple cider
1 orange cut into ¼” slices
¼ C brown sugar
In a muslin bag, combine:
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cardamom pods
2 Tbsp cinnamon pieces
Stir together the first 3 ingredients and place into a crockpot.
Add the bag of spices and heat.
This mixture is an easy way to keep a hot spicy beverage available for an evening of entertaining friends. 

 Simmering Potpourris is another great way to add a subtle background “flavor” to the home. There are small electric crocks made specifically to simmer fragrances, but a pan of water or a kettle on the woodstove works beautifully as well.
I always like to put my simmers into either a muslin bag or a large heat-sealable teabag so that they are easy to clean up. This is so much fun, and you are limited only by your imagination and pantry or garden. The following are only some of the ingredients you can consider .
Rose Petals
Lemon Verbena
Cinnamon Sticks
Dried Citrus Peel
Cardamom Pods
Vanilla Beans
Star Anise
Just have fun with it, and surprise yourself with the rich, warm fragrances you’ll create! 


Monday, October 26, 2009

More Autumn in PA

Since we started doing color covers, it has almost given me new eyes. Now the beauty of every bud, berry, bean, and blossom is even more apparent. Our brother also has a long history of photo manipulation with different computer programs, and he's toying with some small business ideas he can do from home. We are really happy to see him excited about something, btw.
With those things in mind, we set off in search of beautiful things yesterday. This clear yellow is spectacular. Sometimes the maple out back glows this particular color into my sunporch, and it changes my mood. This year the weather wasn't right. So the larger shot of this might become a screensaver.For some reason mushrooms are just so darned cute sometimes. I don't forage or identify them, I just look at them and enjoy the way they look.Looking up through the trees, this struck me as an amazing vision. All the colors and the sky, and the size of the trees, it took my breath away.The churchyard at the Mount Hope church. I'm thinking that at dusk on a foggy night, this could be pretty darned spooky.Eeyore in the flesh! This is a very young little burro. S/he headed over to the fence right away, and I hurried away so that there would be no electric fence accident to repay the friendliness.We sat on a little one lane bridge while I snapped this out the window, with my siblings squawking about oncoming traffic.Still some firey leaves across a new crop of soybeans.One of the larger farms in our part of the county, just over the crest on the other side of a field.
And if you stayed this long, here is a luscious yet simple dessert from Michele Brown of Possum Creek Herbs, published in the Nov/Dec '06 issue of The Essential Herbal.
Baked Apple with Vanilla Bean Crème
You can make as many of these as you like. They taste best fresh from the oven.
Core a large, crispy apple and peel the top portion of the apple.
Set the apples firmly on their bottoms in a baking pan with sides.
Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar over the tops of the apples and add a little bit of water around the bottom of the apples.
Bake in a 325 degree oven until tender. This usually takes 30-40 minutes.
While the apples are baking, whip up some heavy cream and add one vanilla bean (scrape the inside of the bean for the delicious meat).
Stop whipping the cream before it gets stiff peaks. You want to be able to pour the thick cream over the hot apples after they come out of the oven.
Bring the apples out of the oven and let them sit for a moment or two.
Put an apple on a pretty plate and pour the cream mixture over the top.
Take some of the spice drippings from the baking pan and drizzle over the cream.
Note: In PA we'd set the apples on a square of pie dough, bring it up and fasten at the top, and call it an apple dumpling.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Late October '09

The colors are muted, but the heavy gray sky and the advancing storm seems to make them almost more intense. We've been having a brief respite in the previous rush to winter, with a brief, moist and warm spell. As I sit here on this chilly and oh-so-rainy afternoon, there are people wandering the hillside below my office, looking for that perfect Yule tree to tag. I know that many times people are so heavily scheduled that they have only a small window of flexibility - but really?
Earlier this morning my daughter and her best friend accompanied me to breakfast and beyond.They are both total hams, and I enjoy them immensely. Lisa reminds me so much of Gilda Radner - a comedienne who personified the idea of "getting out of your own way" and just throwing herself into the sketches. Lisa is like that. The two of them have so much fun together, and they make me laugh too.The perfectly kept farms in our area are rolling it in for the season. Many have re-sown the fields with winter crops, and the rest will lay fallow until spring. Almost all of them are incredibly well kept and neat as a pin. Considering all of the equipment and mess that farming requires, it is nothing short of amazing.I had to pull over and take a picture of this yard that we passed(and also a soybean field beside it) that was just covered with these mushrooms. They do not look friendly. Cool looking, though.There were these llamas on the one hillside as we drove along. We were treated to lots and lots of sweet animals while we were out... including a little red steer that had managed to get loose and was just having a good old time eating whatever the heck he wanted in a meadow. Miniature horses were at the one farm, sheep, goats, and lots of horses and cows were out today, along with the usual chickens, ducks, and geese. The swans were missing from their usual place in the pond, however.
The reason we were out was the goldenrod.
Because the weather got cold and then warmed up again, there was a sort of second crop of Solidago. I've been reading about the medicinal benefits of this plant and wanted to tincture some, but somehow missed out on the perfect time. These plants had new growth, and the flowers weren't fully open yet, so that led us on a search.The girls waded across a swampy area to get to this patch. They were having a great time. I don't think I've taken Lisa along on any of our foraging tours. It seems that was a shame that we'll have to work on fixing!They were even both willing to try a groundcherry!
The weather changed as soon as we got home, and the skies opened up to let the buckets of rain fall. It was good to be out there among the plants!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Upcoming herb classes - sign up now!

We've put together a bunch of shorter classes that we think will help people make things to stay healthy this winter, get some handmade gifts together for the holidays, AND take a little time out just to enjoy themselves at this busy time of year. Please pass this blog along to anyone you know who might be interested.

Classes will be held in my kitchen at TEH at Frog Hollow between Manheim and Mount Joy in PA. In fact, some of you may want to choose Christmas trees while you're here. We don't need a lot of attendees to make these work (3 0r more) but can't handle more than about 8 - so get signed up over at the website. Click on the "Classes and Learning" button on Pre-registration and pre-payment is required. Hope to see you there - it is going to be FUN!!!

Soapmaking Saturday, Oct 31, 1:00 to 2:30 $35
We'll be making a batch of lavender/oatmeal cold process soap from start to finish, while discussing how soap is made, what the ingredients are, where to get them, and all the stuff you'll need to know to go home and make it yourself! Everyone will leave with some of the soap we make, a copy of our book "Herbal Soaps from Scratch", and lots of know-how. We'll also have ingredients handy (at the shop at Frog Hollow) for those wishing to purchase them after the class. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Making and Using Herbal Tinctures - Saturday November 7, 1:00 to 2:30 $30
Learn how to make safe, effective herbal medicine for your family and how/when to use it. You'll leave with a jar of tincture that will be ready to use in a few weeks, and we bet that you'll make more within days! Handouts also included. The shop at Frog Hollow will be open after class for supplies. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Balms and Salves - Saturday Nov 14, 1:00 to 2:30 $30
You can make soothing, healing balms and salves, and you can learn to do it right here! You may just be shocked to find out how much fun it is to do, and how empowering it is to have them handy when you need them. Once you've mastered it, you'll come up with all sorts of preparations to make. Handouts and recipes are included. The shop at Frog Hollow will be open after class for supplies. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Soapmaking - Sunday November 15 1:00 to 2:30 $35
We'll be making a batch of rosemary cold process soap from start to finish, while discussing how soap is made, what the ingredients are, where to get them, and all the stuff you'll need to know to go home and make it yourself! Everyone will leave with some of the soap we make, a copy of our book "Herbal Soaps from Scratch", and lots of know-how. We'll also have ingredients handy (at the shop at Frog Hollow) for those wishing to purchase them after the class. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Syrups and Elixirs - Saturday November 21, 1:00 to 2:30 $30
We'll make a cough syrup and an anti-viral elixir, with each participant taking along some of each of the finished preparations. Knowing how to make these delicious, effective medicines and having them on hand when needed is very empowering! Handouts and recipes included. The shop at Frog Hollow will be open after class for supplies. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Bath Crafts - Saturday November 28, 1:00 to 2:30 $30
Learn to make bath salts, bathing herbs, and scrubs in this fun class. You'll be able to make these items for gift giving and take some of each along with you to try yourself. Our book, "Crafting the Bath" is also included. The shop at Frog Hollow will be open after class for supplies. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Introduction to Aromatherapy - Saturday December 5, 1:00 to 2:30 $30
What is the difference between "essential" and "fragrance" oils? How does aromatherapy work, and how can you use it in your home and workplace? We'll be running the still and discuss what makes essential oils so special. Each participant will create an essential oil blend and use it to make a 2 oz bottle of massage oil. They will also leave with a purse sized spray of the hydrosol we distill that day during the class. Hand out and recipes included. The shop at Frog Hollow will be open after class for supplies. Other sources will be discussed as well.

Blending Herbal Teas - Saturday, December 12, 1:00 to 2:30 $30
This will be a great opportunity to learn (and sample) about a dozen herbs that are commonly used in blends and then put together your very own tea blend to take home. We'll talk about the medicinal properties of each herb and the fee includes a copy of our book, "Blending Herbal Teas:" The shop at Frog Hollow will be open after class for supplies. Other sources will be discussed as well.Don't delay.

You can sign up for one or all, but be sure to sign up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day of the Dead, by Betsy May

Dia De Los Muertos or “Day of the Dead”
from The Essential Herbal Magazine, Sept/Oct '08 issue by Betsy May

This month was one of those rare and splendid moments when synchronicity steps in and life unfolds in the most perfect way. I had been contemplating writing about my experiences celebrating All Soul’s Day as a child and the herbal twists I have been trying to incorporate into it as an adult.
Growing up in a Catholic family, All Soul’s Day was observed on November 2 by attending mass and praying for the souls of loved ones that have died. As a young teenager this holy day appealed to me because it was really the only time, both in and outside of church, that was dedicated to even acknowledging the deceased. Rather than a solemn mass, however, I longed for something more meaningful, more applicable to my life. Eventually I created my own ritual, making a wreath with candles and pictures of loved ones; an altar of sorts.
As I got older and began studying the symbolism of herbs I played with the idea of incorporating them into my All Soul’s Day ritual. While the wheels began to turn in my mind about all of this, I “happened” to be reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a must read, recommended to me by several people including Tina and Maryanne.) I was overwhelmed with emotion when I read her piece about the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” also celebrated on November 2. Unlike the solemn rituals of my childhood, Mexicans celebrate this holiday with great joy and festivity. They believe that it is easier for the souls of the deceased to communicate with us on this day. The graves of loved ones are decorated with flowers, pictures of the Virgin Mary, and favorite foods of the deceased. Skeletons and skulls are also common symbols of The Day of the Dead. Altars of a similar nature can also be made at home. People often celebrate right on the graves, eating, drinking, and sharing stories and memories of their loved ones late into the night. What a novel idea for our culture which is obsessed with avoiding death by all means possible, worships youth, and chooses to go “under the knife” in hopes of fooling Mother Nature. The herb of Dia De Los Muertos would definitely be the marigold - usually calendula. Graves are lavished with it. The people of Mexico believe that marigolds attract the souls of the departed.
A traditional food for The Day of the Dead is pan de muerto, or “dead bread.” Pan de muerto is a sweet bread, made with anise seeds. (Possibly because seeds symbolize life? Or because anise seeds are associated with magical rituals and are rumored to increase psychic abilities?) The bread is molded into the shape of skulls or bones. I am actually lucky enough to have a friend who makes this every year and is an expert at sculpting it into the shape of skulls. I assumed it was simply made for her Halloween celebration, not realizing its deeper meaning. As I mentioned earlier, synchronicity had taken over this month and ironically I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book two days before leaving for a vacation in Mexico. (I knew there was a reason I couldn’t resist reading it before I got to the beach!)
In Mexico we stayed in a little cabana along the beach, off the beaten path, literally. In a nearby town we stumbled across an art shop that carried only items made by local artists. I stepped into the shop and was surrounded by the glory of Dia De Los Muertos! Shadowbox altars adorned the walls with miniature scenes such as little skeletons, a dinner table with food and wine, musical instruments, and little pictures of the Virgin Mary. The altars were painted bright colors of purple, blue, red, and yellow, with glitter and flowers in the background. Statues of skeletons decorated with flowers were perched on the shelves and skulls carved out of colored stone were scattered throughout the store. The whole atmosphere was one of festivity. I’m sure most tourists would be slightly disturbed by this little Mexican shop overflowing with skeletons and skulls, but my stomach did a flip flop; I had discovered the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos!
When I apprenticed with Rosemary Gladstar she spoke about the importance of honoring our elders and connecting with the ancestors. Not only does it feed our souls, it nourishes our spirits. As an herbalist, it enables us to listen to the deeper vibration of the universe, tuning in to the beauty of green medicine and the wisdom of the plants. I left Mexico with a full heart and a Dia De Los Muertos altar tucked safely in my carry on bag.
Day of the Dead Altar

Symbolism of Herbs:
Calendula: sacred affection, joy, remembrance, grief
Mugwort: be not weary, tranquility, happiness
Zinnia: thoughts of missing friends
Garlic: protection, strength, healing
Chives: usefulness, why do you weep?
Angelica: inspiration, magic
Ivy: patience, fidelity, undying love, eternal life
Pansy: happy thoughts, meditation
Rose: love
(Compiled from Herb Seed forThought by Gem Rigsby)
Begin by constructing a wreath. I find it helpful to use the same metal base that I use for my Advent wreath because it has four candle holders already built into it. However, instead of using pine to make your wreath, use Rosemary, for remembrance of course!
Place the wreath on a table in a special place, adorn it with candles and sprinkle calendula petals around it or use yellow chrysanthemums. (In our climate, fresh marigolds would be pretty difficult to find at this time of the year, but dried calendula petals or “pot marigold” still retain their beautiful color). You could also put other herbs in the wreath, depending on what you want to symbolize. There are tons of resources on the symbolism of herbs. I have listed just a few to get you started. Place pictures of loved ones inside and outside of your wreath and place any special mementos or things they loved around it as well. Take a few moments to say your own private blessing or you might invite your family to also contribute meaningful items to the altar and share stories of your loved ones. Pan de Muerto
There are lots of recipes for “Dead Bread” on the internet.
This is one that appealed to me most, located at
Also, the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s recipe for Pan De Muerto can be located on Barbara Kingsolver’s website at
1/4 cup margarine
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons anise seed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons white sugar
Directions Heat the milk and the butter together in a medium saucepan, until the butter melts.
Remove from the heat and add them warm water. The mixture should be around 110 degrees F.
In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and 1/4 cup of the sugar.
Beat in the warm milk mixture then add the eggs and orange zest and beat until well combined.
Stir in 1/2 cup of flour and continue adding more flour until the dough is soft.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 to 2 hours.
Punch the dough down and shape it into little skulls or bones.
Place dough onto a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until just about doubled in size.
Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven let cool slightly then brush with glaze. To make glaze: In a small saucepan combine the 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over top of bread while still warm. Sprinkle glazed bread with white sugar. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sage, The Perfect Herb for Fall

From Mary Ellen Wilcox
The Essential Herbal Magazine Sept/Oct '05

Sage's ancient history is that of a medicinal herb. The genus name to which it belongs is "salvia", meaning to heal or to be healthy. In the language of flowers, sage stands for long life and good health. Egyptian women drank sage tea to increase fertility, and the Arabians associated it with immortality. During one period in history the Chinese traded four times the weight of their finest tea for sage. There are over 750 sages, most of them ornamental, but the culinary sages are among the most useful of herbs. During the Middle Ages sage began to be used as a preservative due to it's antibacterial properties, and therefore found its way into the kitchen. The earliest recipes used sage with meat for its' ability to break down fats.
The culinary sages are at home in today's herb or perennial garden. They are beautiful, useful, easy to grow and most are hardy to zone 5 where winter lows can range from -10 to -20 degrees. Some varieties that one might like to try are:
Common or Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis) is the most popular for home gardens, and is very hardy. Garden sage grows 24-30" in height and has narrow silvery-gray leaves that have a nubby texture.
Dwarf Sage is more compact and has smaller leaves than garden sage, but is similar in structure. It makes a good container or border plant.
Purple Sage is a dark purplish-green and lends a striking contrast in the herb garden, due to it's deep rich color.
Tri-Color Sage is a variegated purple, green and cream.
Golden Sage, another variegated variety, is green, edged with gold/yellow, and adds a bright spot in any herb garden.
Bergaarten Sage, one of my favorites, resembles garden sage in color and texture, but has a much larger, more rounded leaf, and forms an attractive mound shape.
Pineapple Sage. This is one variety that I must include in my herb garden each year. The leaf has a lovely pineapple fragrance and flavor, and in late summer it sends up beautiful bright red flower spikes. Pineapple sage is a tender perennial so you will need to take cuttings in the fall, or start with a new plant each spring. If you grow this plant, try cutting some leaves, chop them fine, and mix with cream cheese. This makes a delicious spread for summertime breads such as zucchini. Use the spread for tea sandwiches, topped with a blossom. Press some of the blossoms for note cards or decorative papers.
Most sages require a sunny location and good drainage. Heavy soil with standing water in a rainy season will cause the plants to die. Try imitating sage's native Mediterranean habitat. The plants will thrive in a sandy, gravel-like soil that isn't too fertile. Good air circulation will also keep plants healthy and help resist disease. Cutting leaves on stems for summer use will prevent the plant from becoming leggy.
Sage plants may need to be replaced every 4-5 years when they become woody. This can be done by tip layering (rooting the upper section of a stem while it is still attached to the mother plant). Bend the stem down to the ground, pin it with wire 3-4" from the tip and cover with soil. In about 4 weeks roots will have formed. Cut it from the mother plant and transplant. You may also take cuttings and root them in sterile soil. To use this method, take a tender branch, remove lower leaves, dip the stem in rooting hormone and place the cutting in moist, sterile soil. When a good number of healthy roots have formed, move it to a larger pot. You can also rejuvenate an old sage plant by dividing it. Dig up the entire plant, and using a sharp shovel, divide it into several sections. Remove all woody parts and replant the tender sections.
Once your sage plants are established and flourishing you will have plenty of plant material for fall projects. The different colors and textures of sage add interest to herbal wreaths and swags, and entire wreaths can be made from common or Bergaarten sage. Decorate these with dried flowers to brighten them. Make the wreaths up fresh, lay flat to dry (a cake cooling rack makes an excellent drying space) in a dark, dry place with good circulation all around. If you wish to dry the branches before assembling into wreaths, be sure to cut the branches as long as possible, and hang them upside down in small bunches, away from light. These tall branches also make an interesting and attractive addition to winter arrangements. Be sure to also dry extra for holiday and wintertime recipes, as sage holds it's flavor very well when dried.
Sage has been used extensively in the cosmetic industry. It stimulates the skin when used in herbal baths, and is an excellent ingredient in soothing, astringent after shave preparations. A hair rinse made with "sage tea" will make dark hair shiny and lustrous.
The uses for this wonderful plant are many, so get drying, and try some of the following ideas and recipes. Sage is definitely the "perfect herb for fall"!