Monday, November 30, 2009

TEH - December drawing!

During the month of December, all orders placed through the shopping cart of The Essential Herbal magazine OR checks that arrive through the mail, will be placed into a drawing. This includes subscriptions, renewals, advertising, products, books, and wholesale - the whole she-bang.
On New Year's Eve, we'll draw a winner, who will recieve this gorgeous vessel, handmade by Maryanne Schwartz of Torchsong Studio. This beauty is about 1 -1/2 inches tall and comes on the silver ball chain shown. Inside, you can wear a favorite essential oil blend, some amber resin, or anything your heart desires.
If you've been needing a reason to come visit TEH, here it is. Good luck, and happy shopping!

Herbal Aesthetics Blog Party

Ah, the beauty of herbs. When Cory Trusty posted the topic of the December Blog Party that she's hosting at a couple of weeks ago, the ideas started and it has been a never ending reel.
It would seem though, that the topic is almost too broad for me.

Almost 20 years ago, my sister and I were deep in the throes of struggling with the owner of a venue where we rented a shop. We were ready to throw in the towel. As I thought about it, my mind would run over the days we spent making luscious potpourris, or blending colorful herb teas, or gathering heady armfuls of lavender - and knew that there was no way I could face the idea of never being up to my elbows in herbs again.

Visit an herbalist's home, and you'll find jars and bottles of dried herbs, oils, vinegars and tinctures tucked into whatever space is available. There will be stems of things hanging from beams and hooks. That is beautiful. It makes you feel good to look at, and I personally feel that it is relaxing and satisfying.

In the spring, the first brave leaves to break the soil are heartbreakingly stunning, reminding us that we've made it through another winter.

Summer brings a riot of color and nourishment that strengthens and beautifies us, inside and out.

Fall comes with the stiff breezes and fiery colors, giving us the energy to gather the roots and seeds that will help to sustain us and protect us in the months to come.

Winter arrives with an appreciation of the form of trees, the stark whiteness, and the desire to cocoon in the home we've festooned with remembrances of nature.

It is all beautiful! Adding herbs and spices to enhance the flavors and appearance of foods, a gorgeous ruby colored tisane, a bluish purple elderberry syrup, or a well-made bar of handmade herbal soap. So I couldn't really decide!

Here are some past posts that might give you some ideas :-).
~ wildcrafting herbal teas
~ tub teas
~ leaf prints
~ persimmon cake
~ love potions
~ last minute herbal gifts
~ making potpourri
~ making a wreath
~ how to make lavender wands
or even the post just prior to this - citrus pomanders.

That's just a wee taste of *some* of the beautiful things you can do with herbs! Not even scratching the surface, really.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Today we got around to making pomanders. The fruit was purchased a few days ago, but there was finally an hour or so that we could sit and let the fragrances of the citrus and spices waft about. We usually see this done with oranges, but for years we have preferred using lemons and limes. They don't spoil nearly as often, and oranges are just too good for eating!Begin with nice, blemish-free fruits. If you'd like to hang it from a ribbon, tape or band off sections where the ribbon will go, so you don't put cloves there. The lemon shown being worked on will shrink quite a bit, but there will be a clear line where the rubber bands have been.Use something sharp to make a hole, rather than trying to jam the cloves in. That just makes your fingers hurt. We used wooden skewers here, but have used nails, etc. in the past.We enjoy making different patterns and designs. They won't be terribly clear when the pomander is cured, but they do look pretty cool. When the kids were little, we set them to work on the tiny kumquats, and they loved it... of course those are too small for any sort of pattern.When the fruit is covered with all the cloves you want to insert, make up a rolling blend. We used equal parts of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, with a smidge of orris root.Cover the pomanders and then roll them over and pour the spices over every side and surface.

Each day for the next couple of weeks you'll want to roll them around gently in the spices, and spoon it from the plate onto the top of them. They will gradually dessicate, become incredibly lightweight. You can enclose them in fine mesh if you want, or just tie a ribbon around them to hang in the closet.

A really fun and fragrant craft for the holidays!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Great Christmas Trees in Lancaster County

There are tons of choices around here, and you can spend anywhere from $30 right on up to way over $100 for a fresh cut tree that you choose and cut yourself. What is the difference? Probably a cup of cocoa and a hay ride, really.
Frog Hollow Evergreens, between Manheim and Mount Joy is the lower end of the spectrum. ALL cut trees are $30! You have to bring your own thermos full of cocoa, but you can save that $70 - $100 for something else.

The farm has been owned by Bob and Maryanne Schwartz (my sister and her husband) for over 20 years. Bob was raised on an evergreen nursery, so when they purchased this hillside covered with trees that was already in operation, it was a perfect fit! Over those years, we've had the opportunity to see families grow, change, and add or lose a generation. The customers came to love Jellybean, a sheltie who felt it was his duty to escort everyone up the hill. When Jellybean died one Christmas morning after completing his yearly duties, Rudolph joined the family and has taken up the cause - albeit not quite as willingly.
My house is on a hill surrounded by the trees. From it, I can see almost all of the fields. I can see the children skipping along beside their parents, and sometimes hear their voices. The excitement is everywhere, and it rolls around the hills everyday from now until December 21st - 9am until dusk. My sister and I have put our collective wares together in a little shop, and every year we meet new people and make new friends. It's a lot of fun.

Varieties available are: Canaan fir (a cross between Fraser and balsam that grows best in our area - lovely!), Douglas fir, Concolor fir (orange scented needles), White pine, Norway spruce, and Blue spruce. They can be drilled for the Stand-Straight (r) tree stands - free of charge. Trees are also tied with netting for transport, also free of charge. The stands are available for sale, as well as tree bags, and you can get pre-dug trees, but I don't have those prices off the top of my head.

Directions are on their website ( or you can give them a call at 717-653-5666. Come on out and get a fresh tree! See you soon, and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Classes for Jan/Feb announced!

We still have the Bath Crafts, the Intro to Aromatherapy, and Blending Herbal Teas (who knew that one would get so much attention?) to go, but we've put together the classes that will begin after the holidays.
For those of you at a distance, we're working on something for you ;-).

These will all be on Saturday afternoons from 1 until 2:30, and they'll be held here at the N. Strickler Road location. All classes are $30 each, except the soapmaking class and the kitchen cosmetics. They are $35.
Please reserve your space by registering at The Essential Herbal You can pay by cash or check on the day of the class, but if we hold a space for you and you don't show up, we'll have to charge your card.

January 9 - Making Herbal Beads We will use several different fragrant herbs and spices to create beautiful, artistically organic beads that can be combined with other stones and beads to form amazing jewelry that will emit scent as you wear it. You will be making beads and taking them along home.

January 16 - Soapmaking
We've been making soap so long that our kids barely know there are store bought synthetic detergent bars! It is our pleasure to share some of what we've picked up along the way AND what we did wrong so you don't have to. We'll be making cold-process oatmeal and lavender soap. This is a demo-style class, but each participant will leave with some of the soap we've made and the know-how to go home and make it themselves. Materials will be available for purchase on the day of the class should you want to do that and a class hand-out with clear instructions will be provided.

January 23 - Potpourri!
Brilliant colors and delicious scents blend together in feasts for the senses as we talk about all the things that can be used in dry and simmering potpourris. Learn about using fixatives to hold the scent longer, how to incorporate blossoms from the garden and what to look for on woodland hikes. Leave with some of both kinds of potpourri that you've made yourself. Recipes and instructions included.

January 30 - Salt and Sugar Scrubs
You can make these indulgent, luxurious concoctions for yourself with a little instruction on our part. Learn about the different ingredients, and why you'd want to use them. Participants will each make and take a jar of salt scrub along with recipes and instructions to make more at home.

February 6 - Medicinal Vinegars

We'll make Four Thieves vinegar during the class, and talk about the hows and whys of using herbal vinegars as medicine. Each participant will leave with a bottle and lots of recipes and instructions.

February 7 - Super Sunday - Kitchen Cosmetics
Leave the men at home with the 7 layer dip and come join us for a fun workshop where we'll make lots of fun cosmetics right in the kitchen. Note: Not as scary as this picture - lol.Winter Sunshine Moisturizer, a clay mask, Lavender Rose Cream, and a simple pore cleansing lotion will be on the "menu". We'll send some of them along home with you as well as lots of recipes and instructions.

February 13 - Introduction to Medicinal Herbs in the Backyard
Wouldn't it be great to find plants outside that could help pull out that splinter, sooth that sunburn, and clear up that poison ivy? How about something to help relax and sleep, or to tame that tummy ache. There are even anti-viral herbs growing wild outside! Come learn about them with us!

February 20 - Herbal Honeys, Syrups, and Elixirs
Whether the purpose is pleasure or medicine, these preparations are fun to make and a great way to incorporate herbs. We'll make one of each, and everyone takes some herbal honey home along with recipes and instructions.

February 27 - Making Incense
Using exotic resins, herbs, spices, and woods, we'll make delightful cones of incense. Each participant will make their own, choosing from various ingredients. We'll all roll about a dozen or so cones to take along, and have recipes and instructions if you'd like to make more. Hard to find ingredients will be available for purchase on the day of class.

Stay tuned - we've been busy!

During the past week, things have been humming along at a brisk pace here on the hill.
The next issue is packed up and ready to go to the printer bright and early on Monday. It is fabulous (again)!

Midweek we did a demo for a local women's group, and they started buying the soaps we took along before the program even got started :-). They were a welcoming, fun group. We love doing local workshops, talks, and programs!
We quickly changed gears and spent 2 days filming (? what do you call it these days?) the newest DVD. It is about making balms and salves. While it is being edited, we'll be putting together a kit to go with it, and with any luck it will be available in a week or so. This came about because when we'd post about our local classes, we heard from so many people who'd like to take them, but they are far away. With the dvd's and kits - it is almost like being here!

Today's class wasn't popular, so instead we'll pound out 8 batches of soap and then sit down and hammer out the class schedule for January and February. We're looking at things like Herb Beads, another Soapmaking class, Herbs for First Aid, Kitchen Cosmetics, Medicinal Vinegars, and maybe something really fun for Super Sunday. If you are nearby and have something specific you'd like to learn, drop us a line! The new schedule will be posted here and on the Twisted Sisters blog tomorrow.

We're working on a couple of other surprises, but I'll write about that a bit later when they are closer to being ready.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

...and suddenly, it is mid-November!

How did this happen? The geese are honking away, hurrying south before it gets any later.
The other day (surely it couldn't have been more than a week... could it?) I was hurrying around, harvesting, drying, and brewing potions in the kitchen while the sunny breezes blew through the windows. I vaguely remember something about Halloween, and here we are rushing headlong into Thanksgiving and the vortex of holidays.

What the...??? This is starting to remind me of last year - when we, the entire extended family, decided to push Christmas back a week.
I'm sure it's only because it has been so busy around here. It's that fun kind of busy, though.
It started out on Monday, heading to the shore. Beautiful weather for this time of year, but by the next day (or was it the day after that?), Hurricane Ida was ashore in the south, barreling up the shoreline. We thought that if it had been snow, we would have happily been trapped in our delightful suite for a few extra days, but we needed to get back. Personally, it was time for the Jan/Feb magazine deadline, and for my dearest, there were other commitments to return to. So we played and we ate and we relaxed and had fun. It was a delicious break before getting back to business on Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, I puttered around at my favorite herb shop, and then ran home to begin preparations for the Balms and Salves class on Saturday. These classes are such fun! We are getting many requests to either do on-line classes or make DVD's of the ones we are holding - so we think that the taping will be easier. Like we do with the soap, perhaps - we have the DVD, the kit that matches what we're doing exactly, and also the soap book. That seems to work well, I think.
Earlier today, we were putting the final touches on the shop at Frog Hollow so that Maryanne can open for the season. Usually the shop doesn't even open until Thanksgiving, but between the classes and people who come in while tagging trees (which seems to be very early this year because of the gorgeous weekends) the shelves needed to be restocked today and need another look tomorrow!
At some point, I wandered down into the woods to collect some dried things for a project we've been working on. We attempted some mold-making that didn't work out, so it looks like we'll be free-handing these faces. Sculpting doesn't come easily to me, but it is fun. With the addition of the items I found in the woods, she came out better than I expected, and I can't wait to see how everything dries tomorrow!
Also today, while running an errand I ran across these berries on a tree. Are they autumn olives? I've been looking around for a while, and if they are, the whole town is full of them! I tasted one. It was sweet and tart. They are dotted like Asian pears.So that's been my week.
In between we've gotten some spectacular articles for the next issue. I'm pretty excited about that too. We'll start putting it together and get it to the printer within a week or so. We learned our lesson about procrastination last time, and won't let that happen again.
And on that note... Isn't this a gorgeous evening in November?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

..met a pieman, going to the shore...

A month or so ago, I baked a delicious elderberry pie. A berry/pie fiend/friend of mine was beside himself when he saw the picture. So into the freezer went a pie-sized quantity of fresh berries, biding their time for their big moment.
Tomorrow he and I will go to the shore for a few days, and so it was time to get out the elderberries! At the same time, my daughter has been ill, and I'd like her to take some back to college tomorrow.
What to do, what to do?
Maybe I could change the pie recipe to tarts? Maybe use a cupcake tin?
So, I flattened a paper cupcake liner and used that as a cutting template.
Once the dough was inside the pan, I used scissors to cut out the excess triangles of dough and saved that for the tops. It took some time, but I got 12 circles out of 2 pie crusts.
The filling:
4 cups elderberries
1 (scant) cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
juice from one lemon
Heat oven to 375 degrees
I used a canning funnel to ladle the filling into the tartshells. Then I used tiny cookie cutters to make shapes to go on top. Also, some of the leftover dough was used to build up the edges. Into the oven they went for about 25 minutes. At 15 minutes I spun them, because my oven cooks the back ones first. They came out pretty well.
Another experiment that didn't go too badly!
The best part? There will be enough for everyone, and I hope that they will all feel special and loved.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

fruit, herbs, and alcohol

Today we had a class on making tinctures. It was a lot of fun, and since we're just starting out with the classes, they are small. A benefit of small classes is taking home some great stuff. Last week we poured beautiful lavender oatmeal soap into lined 3" x 5" wooden berry boxes. I cut mine and it turned into 4 great bars of soap - although there is a bit of an ash layer on top because it wasn't insulated.
This week we talked about different methods and different herbs, how to use tinctures, and then everyone made a pint jar to take home. I thought we'd all make elderberry, but as it turned out we also had someone who chose to pick vitex berries off the bush out back, another chose holy basil, Maryanne wanted the echinacea I'd dug and cleaned prior to class (that jar is beside the soap, above), while I used some ephedra. It was a lot of fun! With a bigger class we wouldn't have been able to be as flexible in either of the classes.
During the course of today's class, we were talking about using the herbs that grow near you, and I lugged out the jar of sour cherries I've been macerating since June. That will eventually become a cordial, and sniffing today (deLIGHTful!) we decided that they need a vanilla bean to swim around with them. To make the liquid into cordial, it will require the addition of a simple syrup, maple syrup, or honey. We are still fantisizing about what will happen to the actual drunken fruit.
After class I spied some pomegranates and the price is starting to come down on them. In fact, they were on special. So I snagged a couple of them for the same eventual purpose.
After cutting open the pomegranates, the beautiful jewel-toned seeds (what do you call them? The seeds are encased in the small juicy corn-shaped thing-a-ma-jigs) are separated from the pulp and placed into a large mason jar.
I muddled them pretty well to get the juice running.
Finally a few cardamom seeds and a healthy slice of ginger went in before it was covered to the top of the jar with vodka. Then I carefully labelled it and spelled it incorrectly.
In a couple of months we'll have a sniff and see what else it needs!
It seems like it could be great fun to follow along in the seasons and make up cordials to go along. Persimmon? eh.... I don't know about that one, but it might be worth a try with nutmeg and cinnamon!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November begins at TEH

We are really stepping here!
Orders and renewals are coming in....
The classes are starting to come together after a couple of false starts, and there will be people learning in the kitchen for the next couple months of Saturdays. This week it will be tinctures - one of my favorites.
The shop at Frog Hollow is about ready to roll for the year, and it is basically an extended version of our booth from the farm market. The really cool part is that we don't need to schlep it and set it up and break it down each week!
Maryanne's wholesale soap business is keeping us hopping as shops stock up for the coming holidays, and while I was doing the mailing last night, she was making a batch of liquid soap. We've been playing around with some seriously cool molded soaps lately, too.

As for the magazine, we're in that very short break between getting an issue out and getting serious about the next one. Last night I put together a mailing for a few hundred people who have managed to resist renewing for over a year --- last call before the names go into a dump file. What can I say? Some people knit while they sit and watch a show in the evening. I prepare bulk mailings :-).
There are several elderberry candy orders here, so it looks like that's what I'll be doing after dropping the mailing and the orders at the post office.
This is my favorite time of year (wait... didn't I say that in April?) Ok, ok... there are many favorite times, which makes me lucky. I do love the hustle and bustle. It's invigorating to be trying to figure out how to get things done in between this class, those orders, writing an article for somebody, and spending a day at Radiance.

If Spring is a season of rising sap and walking in the woods feeling the green-ness, Autumn is the brisk, hub-bub of business and getting everything accomplished in shorter light hours. It is talking to people instead of plants. It is blankets and slippers and cocoa.

Welcome, November! I've missed you.