Tuesday, December 28, 2010

You mean *those* dandelions?

I was a lucky kid. We grew up surrounded by woods and fields and streams. We knew lots of the plants that grew around us by name, and they were part of our play, but not used in the home as food or medicine. My grandmother was from the days of horse and buggy, and she wasn't looking back. She embraced modernity with open arms and wanted nothing to do with the past. Every time she opened the chest freezer to withdraw some cherished out of season fruit or vegetable in one of those little waxed cartons (before they came in plastic bags), the look of supreme pleasure that spread over her face made it clear that she was never going to be making sassafras tea, dandelion greens or ANY foraged plant based foods or medicine in her house.
There was the disconnect. It happened right there. We knew the plants, but their place has been usurped by a love for modern convenience.Echinacea
As the years passed, we rediscovered a love for gardening, but in doing so, we looked for the new hybrids, the double flowers, and the colors that didn't exist before.
Then we developed an interest in herbs.
We started reading all the books we could get our hands on. My sister and I would each read a different book, swap, and then discuss. Over the winter, we studied field guides and memorized pictures of our long lost friends.
Early on, we started reading about herbs like dandelion, sheep sorrel, chickweed, and burdock. Burdock
Surely they couldn't mean the ones growing outside here! We were so removed from what we felt, that we would order these herbs from suppliers to work with. Catnip, rosehips, and chamomile came in bags. Things like shepherds purse and cleavers and elderberry were ordered. Why? Because we just couldn't believe that the ones growing in the yard could possibly the magical, mystical items we were reading about.Yarrow
And then one day we reconnected. At an IHA conference in the early 90's, I saw a Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook by Billy Joe Tatum at the bookstore. For three days, I looked through that book before finally deciding to purchase it (I'm tight with a buck - lol). Inside, I found recipes for all kinds of weeds - the same ones that grew outside everywhere.Stinging Nettles
That started my everlasting (and somewhat annoying to companions) search for various wild herbs whenever I am outside. If we stop at a gas station in another state, I am standing on the edge of the parking lot looking down at the weeds growing by the culvert. If we stay at a hotel somewhere, I need to wander along the edge of the cultivated lawn and look into the wild places. If I am driving somewhere, I am looking at the sides of the road as much as possible, and prefer the passenger side because it is safer for everyone.
The first year, I looked for chamomile, and found it everywhere.Chamomile
The next year it was elderberry.
In recent years, it has been blue vervain and linden. It is always something. I learn to see them by their color and shape, by realizing what plants they grow near or whether they like wet areas, or disturbed places, or shady, bright, hilly... Soon, if you look long enough you know where they are without actually seeing them. Step a little closer, and yup - there they are.
But the most important thing was learning that YES, it is THAT dandelion. It is THAT catnip, or elderberry or sheep sorrel. It is THAT red clover.Elderberries
At the time, we opened a shop and needed lots more of many of these herbs than we could ever forage or wild-craft ourselves. We tried gathering our own catnip one year, but we needed 10 or more pounds for the year and despite massive efforts only managed to collect a bit over a pound before taking over large portions of the workshop to bunches of drying plant material.
Now, without a shop it is very easy to gather what is needed for most things. Very few of the herbs that I use are not from this property - either wild or cultivated. I will never know all the plants that grow around me, but I do know that they are all important, and will keep learning them - one or two per year.Rosehips
Not everyone has the luxury of living where there are wild things outside the door, but I've also found chickweed and lambsquarters in a rooftop garden in Manhattan. Here at The Essential Herbal, we believe that if you're interested in herbs, it's a good idea to recognize that the dandelion you see is the very same one you'd use. It's great to get to know them!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Starting out with herbs

This topic has come up in private conversations in the last week or two, so it must be something people are thinking about.
The topic of herbs is huge. It is intimidating to those who haven't put their tootsies in the water yet.Everywhere you look, people are talking about obscure, sometimes rare herbs, and as is suggested by the experts, they are using the Latin botanical names. There are very good reasons for that, but if you are hoping to just learn about the things that will keep your own family comfortable and healthy, it seems like too much to bite off.
The truth is that most of us will use a small personal arsenal of herbs. Although I grow and/or gather 30 or 40 different herbs during the year, there are only 3 or 4 that have a place on my kitchen counter. Elderberry and holy basil are always there, although we don't take anything on a daily basis. Right now, goldenrod, ephedra, and nettles are there too, because my kid is struggling with some allergies, but normally they are back in the cupboard. Chamomile is one of our staples too. We always have ginger around, especially in the winter because it warms everything and seems to increase the actions of the teas we drink.
But I'm getting off course here....
Considering how few herbs are truly necessary for the average person to really get to know (learning 10 well is very significant), the best thing to do is to learn one or two very well in a given season (or even year). I've written about this before, and I remember listening to Gail Edwards give a talk many years ago about finding an herbal ally and spending at least a year with it.
For winter, elderberry and holy basil are my go-to herbs. Both are anti-viral, and holy basil has many other attributes, like helping the body handle stress. Stress leads to illness, so handling it is a good way to avoid illness.Let's say you wanted to become familiar with these two herbs. First read about them. Take notes and find out all the positive things they can do, and also if there are any contraindications. Next, obtain some of the herb. Make them into tinctures, syrups, jelly, and herbal lozenges. I keep several "batches" of elderberries frozen and ready for pie in the freezer. Blend them into an herbal tea. Use them, and record how they work for you. Really get to know them and get comfortable with them.
Before you know it, you will have knowledge. You'll have some herbs that you can rely on, and you'll know how to use them. You'll have learned to put together soothing teas, a nice healing salve, and a tincture or two. By learning about herbs one at a time, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain.
The Essential Herbal Magazine's goal has always been to demystify herbs and make them accessible to everyone. It's a great place to start!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Here comes our first snow.

I can feel it arriving.
On the pavement, a few errant leaves clatter.
The wind is whipping through the trees that sigh and wave. The house is creaking to the rhythm of the gusts outside. The storm is on the way and snowflakes will begin to fall soon.
I know in another month or two, I'll be singing a different tune, but right now this storm is welcome to me. There are people who need to travel and need to get back and forth to work, and this is not the case for them. For me, it is welcome.
The holiday passed yesterday, and we are cozy and warm with everything we could possibly want or need.
We'll relax, read, write, watch a movie or two with cocoa, hot tea, and lots of sturdy stews and soups. Now THIS is what winter is about! Bring it on.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What a difference a month makes...

A month ago, we were filled with anticipation, getting the little seasonal-only shop ready for the tree hunters. By the Hearth had just been released a week or so earlier, and we were flying! We were swamped with wholesale soap orders, and coming up with new products for the websites daily.
On the 10th, the Jan/Feb issue of The Essential Herbal went into the mail. I don't remember too much since then. It's been a blur.
Today I sent out the last orders that were obvious gifts, and from now on they won't have the same amount of pressure attached in terms of delivery time.
Today 4 wholesale soap orders went out, and the 2 that are sitting in the shop waiting for pick-up are not time sensitive. The soap shelves are moderately well stocked - although we're not really sure how we managed that.
The tree farm is done for the year.
As thrilled as we were going into the rush of the season, that's precisely how thrilled we are to be finished with it and returning to normal. I am not missing the symbolism of how this happily coincides with the full solstice lunar eclipse... of the return to light, and the seeds that have been planted during the darkness. Nor am I ignoring the idea of the current retrograde phase of Mercury that slows things like communication down. I welcome that with open arms. The timing couldn't be better.
I know I've written about the subject of self-employment before, but there is no season quite as telling as this one for small retail business owners. It is pure craziness.
Taking a few hours off to celebrate my sister's birthday last week meant working until past 11 that night to get orders packed. Every morning before my eyes opened, my mind was turning to what requirements lay before me that day, and how to accomplish them in the most efficient way. The smallest glitch or unexpected issue (whether good or bad) could throw the whole day into chaos, because it was just that busy. I don't mind admitting to an element of fear each time I checked emails, wondering what sort of orders would await, and whether they'd be able to fit with today's run, or if they'd have to wait until tomorrow. That little spark of fear... that's when we start looking forward to the end.
I can set the alarm and go watch the moon turn red in the middle of the night tonight without worrying about oversleeping tomorrow.
When I wake tomorrow, there will be the bliss of knowing that only the typical activities of living will fill the day. There are only a few things that need to be done before the weekend brings Christmas Day, and I will be able to do them with full enjoyment, not having to squeeze them in or begrudge the time spent.
So in review, the past month was wonderful, crazy, busy, and fun. I expect the next month to be full of its own kind of wonderfulness. Thanks everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

well this looks oddly familiar...

Check this out: http://mrsgreenhands.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html
Look familiar?
It sure does to ME!
my post on making and using herb vinegars
my post on lavender wands
my post on distilling lavender
my post on elderberry tincture

No links, no credit.. just stolen information posted as her own. And lavender was spelled wrong in the titles.
Yes, I wrote to her a week ago and got no response.
Yes, I reported it to Google and Blogger - so far, no response.

Yes, I am highly peeved.

Just to be clear, I love it when people share the information posted on this blog, but as with all things posted or published anywhere, it is copyrighted as soon as the "publish" button is hit. A link to the original post is an absolute requirement.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Repeat after me: No.

In the past week or two, I've spoken to several friends who are just completely overwhelmed by this season. Of course it isn't entirely about the holidays, but the season brings about a culmination of anxiety and stress.
We all do it. We agree to things that we know are going to be difficult to accomplish. Lots of those things can't be avoided. Somewhere in the middle of it all, we lose the ability to differentiate between the "musts" and the "maybes". We can't see the forest for the trees, and sometimes even stop looking.
When I was a child, most families had one parent who worked, and one parent who took care of the home and the children. It was not that way at our house, but most of my friends had that typical situation. When the holiday season rolled around, the mothers spent a lot of time on decorating the home, shopping, baking, and creating the whole fantasy. On a weekend soon after Thanksgiving, the father would get out the lights and the ladder and deck the house with lights before returning to the football fest indoors.
As times changed, we have not allowed ourselves the flexibility to recognize those changes. We still expect the same amount of preparation and magic even though the time to make it happen has vanished, leaving us feeling inadequate and lacking.
I'm not suggesting that we should give up the things we enjoy, but I am thinking that we need to give some serious thought to what we do because it is fun, and what we do because of some external and/or imagined pressure.
Here, we've run the gamut from the Total Christmas Experience to pushing the whole season back a month because we couldn't manage it. Neither of those really work for us. The first makes us grouchy and stressed, the other feels sad and empty. Somewhere in the middle is the perfect blend.

I've found that what we "need" to feel happy and festive is:
*One day spent shopping at quaint shops for quirky little gifts with the kid.
*One mad dash around with my sister.
*One batch of cookies baked with the kid.
*A tree.

Everything else is extraneous. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, that's also fine. The best part is that by paring down the list of "musts", we find more time for extras without feeling like we're doing it because we have to. Then the extras really are fun!

I'm wishing you all a season filled with genuine fun, joy, peace and love.
And the ability to say no.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Essential Herbal - Jan/Feb 2011

We start off in this, our 10th year, with an issue full of warmth and herbal wisdom. Lots of everything you've come to expect from The Essential Herbal Magazine - herbal information, recipes, crafts, lore, and humor.
Our goal has always been to empower people to use the herbs that grow around them in ways that they've never tried before. As we sent this issue out, it was with the knowledge that we continue to achieve this goal with every issue. So stay warm, and try some of the great things that have been shared within the pages. If you aren't a subscriber, get on board HERE. You won't be sorry.

Table of Contents, Jan/Feb 2011
Field Notes from the Editor
, TEH news
Winter Herbs, Oils, & First Aid, Mary Graber
Total Tonic Formula and Essential Oil blends along with herbal remedies for winter
Winter Soups & Stews, Susan Evans
Stay warm from the inside out with these luscious recipes
Heaven "Scent" Sachets, Diane Runge.
Learn how to make sachets with home-grown or purchased ingredients
The Historic Herbal, Fragrant Washing Soaps, Kathleen Setzer
Castile soap and herbs together in historic greatness
SouthRidge Treasures, For Your Valentine - a Tussie Mussie, Mary Ellen Wilcox
Tell your sweetie how you feel without saying a word
Top 10 Herbal Resolutions, Cory Trusty
Humorous and thought provoking
Food by the Fireplace, Melissa Sidelinger
Yummy, healthy snack mix
Unusual Salted Potpourris, Marcy Lautenan-Raleigh
An interesting old-fashioned way to make potpourri, with recipes
February is Chocolate Month, Jackie Johnson
...and it's good for you!
Curry Up!!! Rita Richardson
Did you think curry was a single blend made by a big spice company? Think again.
Louisianna Lagniappe, Yummy Yam Spice Muffins, Sarah Liberta
Another great use for sweet potatoes
The 1st Trimester: Preparing, Betsy May
Some ideas and recipes for the discomforts of early pregnancy
Winter Soothing Herbal Breads, Marcy Lautenan-Raleigh
Add some herbs to those breads and spice things up
Gardeners Herbal Hand Soap, Marci Tsohonis
A wonderful bar to make now for the excesses of Spring to come
The Soap Pot, How to Swirl, Alicia Grosso
Now that we've learned the basics, Alicia talks about swirls
Sugar Hearts, Cindy Jones
A little sweet for the sweet
The Winter Garden, Maryanne Schwartz
Some color in the winter landscape
Herbs of the Zodiac: Aquarius, Susanna Reppert Brill/Bertha Reppert
Aquarian herbs topped with Sesame Seed Brittle
Herb of the Year - Horseradish, Tina Sams
An interview with a 4th generation "horseradish man", information on the health benefits of this amazing root, and some interesting uses for horseradish
Why I Love Horseradish, Carey Jung
A memoir with recipes!
Warm Fuzzy Feeling, Jennifer Lane
Staying cozy and healthy in winter

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Classic Crash and Burn

This year, I think the timing is the best yet!
It's something that just isn't worth fighting anymore. It always comes eventually. So many of my friends are self-employed entrepreneurs that I see it all around me, and at this time of year it can hit everyone, regardless of their circumstances.
We work and work, creating endlessly auto-revising lists in our heads. As things get more urgent, diet, exercise, and fresh air fly out the window, sleep is sacrificed, and we are in contact with more people.
I've actually experienced this in an almost instant way on some occasions. A few years ago I was caring for a desperately ill relative, and it was very stressful. I started to feel "off", but it showed up as a restless crankiness. After a few days, it was determined the patient needed hospitalization. Getting into the car, my stomach cramped. By the time we got to the hospital parking lot, I was full-out sick, quickly reaching the feverish weepy phase. In other words, as soon as the pressure was released, my body allowed itself to give in.
That happened on a smaller scale today, since I've learned to listen more closely (and have the luxury of being able to stop).
We've been at a dead run for several months, publishing 2 books since July, along with the bi-monthly release of The Essential Herbal Magazine, and the near tripling of the my sister's wholesale soap company. Then the tree farm opened, along with the little shop. The next issue of the magazine went into the mail yesterday, and my lower back started to act up (Ding!). This morning I felt grumpy. I went down to the shop, but couldn't quite get the smile thing going.
By 2 o'clock I was back home and barely managed to get my shoes off before crashing for about 3 hours. It will probably be a very early night tonight, and a hefty dose of elderberry is in the cards for me too.
Good timing, though. There's still lots of time to enjoy the next couple of weeks, and for once the crash and burn won't happen on the eve or day of a major holiday, and it only took me half a century to figure it out.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

a gathering of gift posts

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I gathered some of my holiday gift crafting posts from holidays past and put them together in one convenient place.

last minute herbal gifts
gifts for the soul
bath salts and memory boxes
home made vanilla extract
deviled nuts, holiday tea and almond bark deluxe
simmering potpourri
spritzes and powders
chai and sugarplums
tea blends and gel air fresheners
sachets and eye pillows
incense papers
herb kit and a lip balm
pomanders, potpourris, and spicy ornaments
hot stuff
massage oil
sweet things
tub teas
spice necklace
gifts for animals and pets

Traditions are us

It's funny how traditions sneak up on you. The holiday season is one in which we are usually more clear about them, but as it turns out, for me it was the most surprising.
It's always been sort of a family joke. When we were young, Mom struggled mightily to raise us. Some years there was Christmas, and some years it was a non-event. Childhood memories are a mixture of fun and horror, with Mom trying too hard with too little, and nothing ever being quite the way it looked on the glittery cards that would arrive. Kids don't need perfect, it seems. They just need love. One Christmas it snowed heavily. We lived about 1/2 mile from our grandparents, and Mom decided we would hike up the hill with the toboggan to spend the night there. So we set out, in the pitch dark night, freezing cold, in deep snow. When we got there, the only gift she had for her father was a bottle of blackberry brandy and *I* wanted to be the one who carried it inside. Naturally my little hands were numb, and naturally they let go of the bottle at exactly the time that we reached a place where the walk had been shoveled. I think my mom cried. Nobody yelled at me, but I sure was mad at myself. I think there was a half-hearted attempt of gathering up the blackberry snow until talk of glass shards came up. Merry Christmas, everybody!
For most of my adult life, my sister and her husband have had a Christmas tree farm. Kind of ironic when you think about it. Every year Maryanne and I have set up a little shop. Except for the first few years, it has been full of herbs and soaps. There is a picture somewhere of me in the shop, just weeks before my January baby was born. It has always been a part of Molly's life.
Shortly after she was born, we opened our first shop, and had brick and mortar shops until she was 8 or 9.
When you have an herb shop (or magazine, soap company, etc.) and a Christmas tree farm in the family, people assume that your house must be the most wonderfully decorated home in the world over the holidays... that it smells of mulled cider and snickerdoodles, and that you probably throw a little party where people dress in cocktail dresses and natty blazers. They tell us that all the time. You don't. If you're lucky, you can carve out a day or two to frantically try to throw something festive together, but the vast majority of your energy is already on display for the shops. You think to yourself, "See this bow on my head? That's it!"
Over the years, it has become less and less important to me that decorations come out, and last year they were all buried under my brother's belongings, anyhow. This year they'll come out again. Why?
Because this season was a big surprise to me, and it warmed my heart in a way I can hardly express. Molly is about an hour away in college, and was home for Thanksgiving. She worked a few days at a department store, but was itching to work at the tree farm.
I couldn't really understand why she was being so adamant about it. She wanted to work outside in the cold, while she could just stay warm and have nice, set hours at the mall store where they'd play holiday music and hang giant balls from the ceiling.
Finally, it struck me. This IS our tradition, and she wanted to take a more active part in it. For her entire life, this is what we've done, and now that she's grown she wants to be in the middle of it, pulling along with us.
When she gets home next week, I think we'll drag her into the shop and have her with us womenfolk - answering the phone and wrapping soap. Then we'll decorate our tree. But not the pink tinsel one... I don't think I can stand that again.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Herbal Holiday Gift Series 2010 - a few ideas

I've been pretty busy at the tree farm and shop this season, so this series isn't going as smoothly as it has in past years. Be sure to check at the bottom of this post for some links to friends' blogs with more ideas! Here are a few fun crafts to try :-).
Frankincense and myrrh are a traditional gift of the season. When we first opened shop at the rennaisance fair, we tested lots of products, and these resins were at the top of the list. We purchased "simmers" and tried them out. A teaspoon or less of frankincense was in a heat sealed teabag, to be added to a potpourri simmer pot. Do not use these in anything you'll be cooking in - but the small electric or candle warmed containers are great. Both frankincense and myrrh (or any fragrant resin - copal, pinon, dragon's blood, etc.) can be used without a teabag, and just simmered alone or as a combination. This is a good way to use them for the fragrance without the smoke caused by burning them on charcoal that can be such a deterrent in the closed up house of winter. A small vial of each of these resins makes a sweet gift. Add some gold ribbon to complete gifts of the Magi theme.
This season we've been having a hard time keeping up with demand for lavender sachets, so it would seem that they would be a welcome gift. We package a 1/2 cup of lavender buds into muslin bags that we decorate with permanent ink. You can also make your own bags from appropriately patterned fabrics if you like. The sachets can be used in the clothes dryer to freshen linens, placed in drawers, or because we leave the strings on the bags, they can be hung in the closet to keep clothes smelling clean and fresh while discouraging moths. My nephew got a kick out of seeing the same thing at Trader Joe's a few weeks ago, thinking that once again, the mainstream has finally caught up with his mom and aunt who have been making these for decades :-). Yes, it's true. It takes us decades to seem normal to our kids. Sigh....
I've written about bathing herbs before, but people are using these items more and more. 20 years ago we needed to explain them extensively for every customer, and now they fly off the shelves as fast as we can make them. We use giant heat sealed bags for ours, but you can also put them in a jar and include a muslin bag, a pot-sized tea ball, or they can be tied into the round coffee filters with a pretty ribbon for a more Victorian presentation.
I like to use herbs that were grown in the garden over the summer for personal gifts. Blends almost always include some rose petals and lavender, and from there the choices are endless. Calendula, comfrey, chamomile, sage, St John's wort, mints, tarragon, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lime basil.... these are just off the top of my head, picturing the garden this year. To these you can choose to add other things - like oatmeal, sea salts, or powdered milk. You may also choose to add a few drops of essential oil. Sometimes the blends turn out to be so beautiful that it seems a shame to hide them in a pre-made bag.
If you live in an area where bayberries grow, try dipping some bayberry candles with the kids. When I was in elementary school, one of my teachers heated beeswax in #10 cans inside a pan of water. Since bayberry wax is so hard and brittle, you'd need to mix it with another wax for strength (and because it takes a ton of bayberries to make enough). Beeswax is a nice, natural choice. Wicking can be purchased at craft stores. If you've never made hand-dipped candles, you're in for a treat. Cool slightly between each dip, and the wax builds up to form a rustic, beautiful candle. Note: candle making is an art in which wick size, melting points, and various other attributes come into play, but for a craft that will inspire your kids, this is a good one. Here is a link for more information on dipping candles.

For some other ideas, visit these links...
From The Rosemary House
From The Backyard Porch
From Aquarian Bath
From Sage Script

Friday, December 03, 2010

Herbal Holiday Gift Series 2010 - Kids.

Kids are tough when it comes to herbal gifts, but not impossible.
Without a doubt, I was lucky to have a kid who loved everything I did or made for her.
At 10, she wanted her own teapot. At the time, animal prints were all the rage, so I found a 2 cup teapot in a leopard print and gave her some packets of herbs that she could blend into her own teas.
When she was younger, she loved any kind of bath additive, with scented bath salts being at the top of the list. She also loved a massage after her bath, so I blended relaxing essential oils into apricot and jojoba oil and we'd use that afterward, sending her into dreamland. To make the bath salts, I would take the larges crystals out of a large bag that we had for the shop and save them. To a quart of salt crystals, add 1 tsp glycerin, 30 drops of essential oil (I always chose relaxing oils!), and a few drops of food coloring, mixing well. The massage oil was made simply by mixing 10 drops of lavender eo per ounce of oil. Almost any liquid vegetable oil can be used for this.
One year I taught her and a few of her friends to make lip balms and sparkly glycerine soaps (followed by a slumber party, which was undoubtedly the most difficult part for me).
For young boys or girls, field guides are almost always welcome. For some kids, the field guide might be about rocks, or butterflies, birds, or trees. Any kind of nature guide is a good thing.
Kits for making things are fun for kids too - but they don't have to be pre-made.
A few dried gourds with some permanent markers can be a rattle making kit.
Some olive oil, beeswax, a smidge or two of pink mica, and a few lip balm tubes or pots with instructions make a lip gloss kit. Our Balms & Salves How-to and Recipes book would be a great addition.
At the Dollar Tree, I saw that they had hemp twine the other day. Combined with an assortment of beads and some clasps from the craft store, a jewelry making kit could be made up pretty inexpensively.
Finding and printing out knot-making instructions from the internet into a booklet form, and adding some rope would work to teach someone how to tie knots. I know my brothers would have liked that when they were young.
Journals or art supplies are welcome gifts, depending on the child. One of my daughter's favorite gifts was the day my sister allowed her to go through her fabric collection and take quite a few odds and ends to play with.
Sure enough, as she got older her dad made sure she got lots of electronic gadgets, and that was a good thing too. She still loves to learn to do the things I love to do. At nearly 20, a cookbook that includes the foods she loves best from home, her very own sewing kit, or even a collection of "how to keep a home, by Mom" in a booklet would be great.

Cindy Jones at SageScript.com has some crafty ideas that she shares on her blog here

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Herbal Holiday Gift Series 2010 - air-drying clay

A brick or two of air-drying clay is a great item to get the noggin working on ideas. It comes in white or terra cotta, and you can always work micas or pigments into the clay if you want another color or finish and it is easily found in arts and crafts shops or on-line.I like the terra cotta a lot, and there's no need for a kiln or any baking at all - making it a perfect medium with which to get the kids involved.
It can be rolled out to a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness, and cut into simple strips 1", with one end made into an arrow shape, and the names of herbs cut into them to make garden markers.
The clay can be formed into small offering bowls.
I made this wall plaque by fixing a wire loop firmly in the back of the piece while the clay was damp, and then after forming the face (a little angrier than intended, lol...), creating a head dress from dried seedheads, grasses, and flowers. Spices, roots, and herbs could be incorporated, and the gathering of decorative herbs and grasses could be a fun outing with the kids, getting them to look closely at what late autumn still has to offer.
Another idea would be to press cinnamon sticks, star anise, allspice, cloves, etc., into a pleasing pattern on a square or circle of the clay, making certain to make a flat top surface. Be sure to start with a shape that is deep enough to hold the spices and be able to have a flat top, to form a coaster for hot mugs, that will release scent when the heat warms them up.
Since this clay can be painted or decorated in many ways, it could also be used to make pendants. There are TONS of crafts that could be made for gifts. It takes about 24 hours to permanently harden, so you can play for weeks with this one - even waiting until almost the last second!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Gift Series 2010 - Herb Teas

Every year we try to give some good ideas for fun, easy, and inexpensive handmade herbal gifts. It's a series that always forces me to sit down and write, so that's a give to me!

One of my favorite gifts to give is a specially blended tea. Knowing the person, what they like, and what they might be fighting (sleeplessness, sniffles, germ-filled workplace, etc) make it personal. However, even if you aren't particularly knowledgeable about the medicinal properties of herbs, you can still put together a very pleasant tea that is individualized.

Blending teas is an immensely enjoyable craft. If you've gathered and dried herbs from the garden in the previous season, you're all set. You can get some additional ingredients at your favorite purveyor of herbs - either a neighborhood herb shop or on-line, or make do with what you've got on hand.
Good herbs to start with include mints, ginger root, chamomile, rose petals, lavender, red clover, elderberries and flowers (I really like to dry blueberries and raspberries during the summer and chop them up for inclusion), echinacea leaves, flowers, or roots, lemon balm, lemon grass, hibiscus, rose hips... and really we could go on and on. Many, many herbs are good in teas - either adding bright notes to the flavor, or soothing, healing properties. Spices are delicious too. Cinnamon, saffron, star anise, licorice root, and cardamom come to mind immediately.
For gift-giving, you might want to choose to give a friend loose tea, which in the case of a particularly beautiful blend might be especially desired. If you suspect the recipient wouldn't use the tea unless it was in teabags, you can get heat-sealable teabags and take care of that little problem. All sorts of packaging is available at this time of year. Tins, boxes, and even mason jars that have a ribbon around the neck can be spruced up and labeled with personalization.
Some ideas for combinations...
Someone need to relax? Choose and blend from these:
lemon balm
oat seed
linden flowers
Challenged by lots of germ exposure?
eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)
St John's wort
holy basil
Lots of colds and allergies?

wintergreen leaves

These are just a very few ideas and choices.
There are herbs that can support nearly every physical and emotional situation, but they do require some knowledge and research. Blending a tea simply for the pleasure in the cup is a wonderful gift as well. One of my favorites is a 50/50 blend of black tea with spearmint. Flavorful teas can be blended with raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, and dried citrus zests and flowers.

I encourage you to give it a try if you haven't yet. Simply assemble 5 or 10 herbs that you have read about on the boxes of commercial tea blends. Add a pinch of this and a bit of that - ALWAYS writing down what you do as you do it (what if you discover the perfect blend and don't know what it was?) and brew small amounts to taste. Add to the blend until it is perfect. Make very small amounts until you've found a blend you like.

For more information, you'd probably love our magazine!  SUBSCRIBE HERE.

We also have a lot of good books (including one that is filled with favorite herb teas from herbalists around the country), and you can get them HERE.

Lastly, if you don't feel like making your own, we have a nice selection of teas and tea implements.  Check them out HERE.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If for just one day, be thankful.

There are many ways to look at Thanksgiving. At this point in my life, most holidays have become a time to reflect.
Most of them lead me to count my blessings. Oh, there are always big, giant problems in every life. There are things that we would give anything to fix if we could. If we look carefully though, even those have some beauty and grace. Sometimes you have to squint and maybe look sideways, but they are always there.I'm still barely able to believe that my brother is really gone after years of suffering, hanging on, hoping for a transplant. But he is. He is no longer suffering. Our lives here on the hill are no longer completely absorbed by the tenuous balance of sodium, water, lactulose, medications, and proteins that ruled our days. No more midnight dashes to the ER. I am thankful that his pain is over - as (for the most part) is ours.
There's such a bittersweet thrill in watching my daughter grow into an independent young woman with dreams that will likely lead her away from me. That was my job, and it appears that I did it pretty well. I am thankful to have been able to (as my sister always says) give her roots and wings, all the while holding back my inclination to cling to her.
I am thankful for the whimsical notes that customers write on their orders, letting me know that they love the magazine and feel friendship in the pages. They do not know how very appreciated those comments are to me.
I am grateful for the friends and family who have watched me row through rough waters in the past 6 months, but withheld their judgment, even though the situation is difficult for them to comprehend. Knowing that they respect my choices and decisions makes me thankful for their acceptance and love.
The act of walking outside, breathing in the air and knowing the plants around me changes everything. It is the most healing thing on earth, and it is completely free and easily accessible. For that, I am eternally thankful.
I could easily list a hundred things to be thankful for - simple things like clean water, pumpkin pie, a car that starts at the turn of a key, a home amidst family, but those things are too easy.
The hidden blessings, the ones that require looking behind, beneath, through, between - those are the sweetest because they are the hardest to find.
I am thankful nearly every day - still working on those odd days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting back to normal

Whew! Things are starting to settle back to our normal craziness around here as we finish shipping out the pre-release and begin on the Jan/Feb '11 issue of The Essential Herbal. It's been a wild ride, and a HUGE thanks goes out to everyone who helped us make the release go so well.
Yesterday I took a long anticipated walk around outside, just to see what I could see. Each season has so much beauty, even if sometimes it requires a closer look. Knowing it would rain today, I took quite a few pictures to share. Have a look and enjoy.
Several wild plants are putting out new growth. The catnip is one that always has an autumn push here.Cones on the trees are few and far between. It is quite noticeable considering that a conifer farm is my back yard.Dock seeds grew up through a tree.The very last remaining elderberries...Seedhead on the oregano...Passionflower vine is done for the year...Tips of the trees have a lot going on...Standing under the maple, looking out over the sleepy garden border...This witch hazel is nearly 5 years old. Every year until now the groundhogs have snapped it off at the base. The root system is intact and one day it will take off...We'll be starting a holiday gift series in a couple of days, so consider this "intermission".

Friday, November 12, 2010

And the winners are.....

We'll be sending emails to the winners over the weekend, and letting the donors know where to send the prizes, but in the meantime I'm listing the winner along with their order number below... Here we go!

Bracelet from Torchsong Studio
#2301 Julie H
Cheeseplate from Herbal Pottery
#2281 Rena M
Eco-tubes from The Soap Dish
#2275 Lynn P
Hydrosol Sampler from SunRose Aromatics
#2191 Roxane K
Faux Joe brewable herbal coffee substitute from Farm at Coventry
#2220 Lisa B
God's Wild Herbs book from Cladach Publishing (6)
#2140 Tara A
offline order Pat D
#2216 Pat M
#2251 Amy M
#2211 Rebecca M
#2207 Linda L
Soap and lip balm from Brushwood Farm
#2160 Diane R
Lavender Lovers Gift Set from Colorado Aromatics and Sagescript
#2295 Nanette D
Incense Kit from The Essential Herbal
#2269 Sabine W
3 Soaps from Lancaster County Soapworks
#2204 Sherry E
Gingerbread Man soap ornament from Aquarian Bath
#2248 JoAnn F
Bathing Herbs kit from The Soap Dish
#2315 Nancy G
Gift Set from All Goode Gifts
#2139 Maveh V
Glass Teapot Pendant from Torchsong Studio
#2139 Lydia G
Soaps of the Seasons from Herbal Nature Organics
#2192 Sue S
1-year subscription to The Essential Herbal (3)
#2288 Stacy D
#2206 Dionea S
#2309 Pat B
ounce of Holy Basil
#2298 Kathy K
ounce of Elderberries
#2175 Sarah V
Extra Essential lip balm (3)
#2285 Ashley C
#2229 Kim H
#2181 Brenda S

Thanks to everyone for making this book release such a great success! The book is a prize in itself :-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bringing up the rear....

This is the caboose of the prize train. The pre-release sale of By the Hearth will end sometime late on Thursday the 11th, and this event has been so much fun! If I had planned it, the timing couldn't have been better, as we'll get the books into the mail and dig right into our Jan/Feb deadline for the magazine on the 15th.
*I'm tossing 3 1-year subscriptions to The Essential Herbal into the pot. Current subscribers who win will have it added onto the length of that subscription, and otherwise they will begin with the Nov/Dec issue.*Someone will win an ounce of my homegrown holy basil.
*Someone will win an ounce of our dried elderberries.
*Three people will win a tube of Extra Essential Lip Balm.
Everyone in the pre-sale will be getting a cup of herbal tea included with their book (fruity holy basil blend).
I know that you are all going to enjoy the book immensely, as it is filled with the hopes, dreams, and joy of those early years. Putting the book together reminded me how wonderfully sharing herbies are, and how much we all want to express how empowering it is to learn these things and pass them along.
Thanks again, all... and good luck!
Prizes will be announced here on Friday night and published in the Jan/Feb issue along with links to all the AWESOME gift donors!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It's all goode!

Only another day or two to go here in the wild and crazy parade of prizes for the pre-release of By the Hearth. I've been having a ball posting these things, and I really hope that those of you reading along have also found some great new sources and ideas for wonderful handmade goodies in these posts for future reference.
Today's addition to the list of prizes comes from Karen at All Goode Gifts.These are cute little bags that contain a 4.5 oz bar of soap, an aromatherapy diffuser with the subject scent, and a sample of vitamin rich cream. The winner gets their choice of Patchouli,(black) Sandalwood, (blue) Amber, (red) or Lavender (gold).

Back at the ranch, we've already started work on the Jan/Feb '11 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine. No rest for the wicked, as they say... We are accepting articles, recipes, crafts, and ads until Nov. 15th. It's already shaping up into another great issue! If you've never read a copy, visit our website to download a free issue - we're a print magazine, but you can see an on-line sample there. Click on the starburst at the top of the home page :-).

Monday, November 08, 2010

the year-long prize :-)

There are so many great prizes for this drawing that I'm getting pretty jealous that I'm not in it myself!
I'm sure many of The Essential Herbal readers will be familiar with Marci Tsohonis from Herbal Nature Organics, as she has contributed several wonderful articles. Recently we've been treated to recipes and instructions for 2 of her lovely soaps - Zazen and Pumpkin Pie.Marci is going to send one of our winners a year of luscious soaps from her "4 Seasons of Herbal Nature Soap" program, which includes 2 (4.5 oz) bars of soaps selected to match the seasons of the year (pretty great way to coincide with the seasons of the books). Right after the drawing, the winner gets a bar each of the two pictured above, and the others mail out Feb 5, May 5, and Aug 5! How cool is that?
All purchases of "By the Hearth" during the pre-release 20% off special are automatically entered into the drawing. There are a couple more days (probably through the 11th), but don't delay. When the books arrive here, we start shipping, the price goes up to the cover price of $24.95, and the prizes will be awarded.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

this prize is all wet

First - there are just a few more days of prize posting left, and then we'll get back to some normal content. If you're a long time reader, I apologize for the commercial interruption, but there are 5 1/2 years of posts to look over while we get this book released. I'll write again soon, I promise.

There's no picture for this one, because it is being created just for us (although I think she should probably think that one over and offer it on her shop). From Rebekah at The Soap Dish comes a kit to make lavender milk bath, including a pound of milk powder, 4 ounces of lavender, 50 large tea bags, an ounce of lavender fragrance, and instructions. Anyone can make bath teas, even if they don't know how to make anything else. This is so cool because you'll be able to make enough to use and give some away to friends if you like! A perfect way to get that holiday gift making started. It kind of reminds me of my grandmother's technique of holiday gift shopping... one for xxx, one for me.

Someone asked me yesterday if I had any idea what the odds were of someone winning a prize. It looks like it will wind up being something like 1 in 12 to 1 in 15. Those aren't bad odds, and there are some amazing prizes. The book, "By the Hearth" is pretty amazing too, and the pre-release 20% discount doesn't hurt.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

It's a bird, it's a plane...

... no, it's a gingerbread man soap on a rope, made especially to hang on a Christmas tree (or tied onto a package, hung from a garland, or lots of cool uses) until the holidays are over, and he becomes a beautiful naturally scented bar of soap! This prize comes from Cory Trusty at Aquarian Bath for the pre-release sale drawing of "By the Hearth" . One Gingerbread Man Soap on a Rope Ornament scented with Ginger, Cinnamon & Clove Essential oils just might find its way to your house if your name is drawn as one of those ordering while the 20% off pre-release sale is going on. Not only is the price $19.95 (rather than the $24.95 cover price) until the truck backs up to our door (looks like the 12th now), but for each book ordered, an entry goes into the drawing. When the book arrives, the price changes to the cover price forever.
I'd like to mention that most of our prizes are from writers or advertisers in The Essential Herbal Magazine, which illustrates the point of how talented, creative, and sharing the contributors to the magazine are, and what sort of people you'll meet in the magazine and in "By the Hearth", a compilation of our first five years (2002-2006) of fall and winter issues. We put "Under the Sun" out in 2008, and it covered those same years, but the spring and summer issues. We finally got around to the dark months!
Still more prizes to come, so stay tuned. On the day of the drawing, all prizes and winners will be listed here on the blog, and they will also be published in the Jan/Feb '11 issue of The Essential Herbal. Good luck, everybody!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Teapot Pendant

Hmmm... what have we here?
Another handmade lamp worked piece from TorchSong Studio! About a year ago, Maryanne took the challenge to make a teapot from glass for our friend Nancy at Sweet Remembrances Tea Room, and has made several since - one of which I swiped last night for the "By the Hearth" prize drawing.
The printer tells me that the book is now in the hands of the company who will bind them, and they will probably arrive here on the 12th - so there's still time to place an order and get your name into the drawing! The drawing and the 20% discount ($19.95 instead of $24.95) continue until the truck backs up to the door here.
The book is a fabulous prize all by itself, but if you've been a fan of The Essential Herbal for any length of time, you know me - and my attempts at turning everything into some kind of party. If you look back over the last 8 or 10 postings, you'll see all of the great prizes we have so far. More to come!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

But what's INSIDE By the Hearth?

Sure, sure... it's easy for me to say, "Oh it's a great book, filled with the best parts of 5 years of fall and winter issues from the early days." I can tell you how many pages (245) there are and show you the cover, but unless you see the many columns of tiny printed indexing, that doesn't say much if you aren't a reader of The Essential Herbal magazine, does it?
So a smattering of listings from that index includes:
*handmade gift ideas and holiday decor
*Valentine's day treats
*nourishing and delicious soups
*spice clay mix
*how to make mead
*several chai recipes
*several mulling mix recipes
*using the herbal harvest
*many, many tea recipes (medicinal and pleasure)
*tub tea recipes (at least a dozen)
*jellies and jams from herbs and fruits
*herb butters
*cold and flu remedies
*dealing with stress and depression
*various holiday celebrations
*drying herbs
*seed starting
*herb vinegars
*face cream, scrub, steams
*culinary herb blends
*herb infused oils
*herbed honeys, salts, sugars
*lavender everything
*weeds as medicine and food
And that is really just a small sampling of what is inside. There are articles on specific herbs, how to use them, how to enjoy them, and on and on and on. More than anything, you'll find how easy it is for you to make all of these things yourself, and be empowered to keep your family healthy and happy using the plants that grow around you.
There are still a few days left before the pre-release special is over, and prizes continue to pile up in the kitchen beside the crate of flat-rate envelopes waiting to be stuffed. We're adding a prize of three handmade soaps for one lucky winner - One each of Bayberry (made with our own bayberry wax), Rosemary (swirled with powdered rosemary), and Mahogany Rose (real rose oil, hydrosol, and rich cream - a special one-time-only soap we made for the pure extravagance). Order before November 9th to save 20% off the cover price!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Loose Incense Kit - today's addition

I'm throwing this prize into the pot of prizes for the pre-release drawing for By the Hearth. As the big red cabbage bowl overflows, we keep adding prizes so everyone has a good chance at winning something!
This kit is also something that could be put together easily for gifting during the upcoming holidays, so here's what's in it in case you'd like to do something like that:
The burning container is a terracotta saucer that can be found in any garden center or craft store. Into the saucer, salt, sand, or pebbles are added to help dissipate the heat from the self-lighting charcoal disks (I wrapped the roll of charcoal in purple foil for aesthetics).
The incense is a blend of frankincense tears, myrrh granules, and balsam fir needles, approximately equal parts by volume.
Add a little label and instructions, put it together in a nice little bag (this one comes in a filmy purple sack), and you have a sweet gift. We've made these kits in different scents over the years for the various shops we've had, and then again for an herbal product "swap" that I participated in a couple of years ago.
In the middle of all this hub-bub, we're getting ready to start the next issue of The Essential Herbal magazine, and head into 2011! If you've never seen the magazine, download the sample magazine on the website to see what it's about. TEH is a print magazine, but the one on the site sold out, so we posted it as a sample.

Monday, November 01, 2010

One for the Lavender Lovers!

If you haven't taken a moment to order your copy of "By the Hearth" don't wait too long! Only a week left to take advantage of the 20% off pre-release sale, and get your name in the drawing for some amazing prizes.

From Cindy Jones at Colorado Aromatics and Sagescript:
"Lavender Lovers Gift Set"
It is a 4 oz bottle of Lavender scented lotion, a 4+ oz bar of lavender/shea soap, a 1 ounce bottle of lavender hydrosol and a package of two dream pillows that contain lavender and other herbs. Packaged in a decorative box of recycled paper.
Cindy does some great work, making her own hydrosols, growing a lot of the herbs she uses in her products, and she also does cosmetic microbiology - assays for the cosmetic professionals.

There are still a few prizes to be posted as the week continues - so don't wait too long. The sale ends on the 7th of November, and time slips by... So far, the prize list contains handmade jewelry, pottery, books, eco-friendly packaging, hydrosols, handmade soaps and body care, and an herbal coffee substitute. The odds of winning something are not too shabby!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

folk herbalism and astrology

Two evenings this past week, Farm at Coventry hosted Phyllis Light, who talked about folk herbalism and astrology.Susan Hess and Phyllis Light in the herb kitchen of Farm at Coventry
Somewhere here in the house, there is a stack of 100+ year old copies of Baer's Agricultural Almanac that I picked up somewhere along the line. In each copy, there is an astrological chart accompanied by a line drawing of a man with the corresponding body parts labeled. I always understood the simple things, like planting with the waxing moon and weeding with the waning moon, but Phyllis pointed out that the different signs correspond with the elements - being dry, wet, fertile or infertile, and it was like a lightbulb turning on.The almanac shows astrological signs for each day of the month
She went on to talk about root doctors, Tommie Bass (who I'd heard of some years back after meeting Darryl Patton who wrote a book about Tommie), who was her teacher for a long time, and the way Appalachian folk herbalism has worked and how it came together from factions all over the world.
Both evenings were fascinating, and I was struck by Phyllis' comfortable speaking style. Both nights during the drive home, we discussed what we'd heard and it just kept unfolding. It reminded me of the class I'd taken earlier this month at The Rosemary House with Pam Montgomery. In both cases, it was in thinking about them later that the information was really digested. We car-pooled both nights to Farm at Coventry, so that allowed for more input on the ride home.
Another thing that I really love is that even though both of these great herbal teachers presented at venues that were an hour distant from my home - in different directions - walking in, I was greeted by herbies that I know either in person or have met on-line. The kitchen table was laden with refreshments to enjoy before and after the presentations.
That is an added bonus that is hard to describe. Perhaps it is because places like The Rosemary House and Farm at Coventry host these wonderful herbalists on a pretty regular basis as well as having other good herbal classes, that makes this area rich with herbal learning and enthusiasm.
I hear from herbies all the time who tell me that there is nothing herbal going on in their local area. Some can't find even a single person nearby to talk to or go into the woods or fields with, and here we are with this incredible wealth of learning opportunities. I'm very grateful to these herb businesses for bringing so much interest and knowledge to our area, and wonder if they know how much good they are doing.
So often, we go along in what we do without ever knowing if we make a difference. I can say without hesitation that these two - The Rosemary House and Farm at Coventry - are responsible for many, many people taking an interest in herbs and learning how to use them properly. I appreciate it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Settle in, grab a mug and a book...

We aren't finished adding prizes to the pot for our drawing to celebrate the release of "By the Hearth" yet!
Susan Hess from Farm at Coventry has added an 8oz bag of her famous brew. Faux' Joe is a roasted grain, root and bark beverage & delicious, caffeine-free alternative to coffee! Not an instant, this granulated brew-able blend works well in a standard coffee maker, cappuccino machine or French press.

Faux’ Joe is a rich, dark, healthful blend of:

  • malted barley blend
  • chicory root
  • dandelion root
  • with just a hint of carob, coconut & cinnamon.

Enjoy your Faux’ Joe straight up or serve with warm, frothy milk for a yummy “Faux’-cuccino!” Fantastic chilled and served with ice & Cream ! The possibilities are endless…Brew up a cup! 8 oz. bag Makes approx. 40 cups.

There are still a few prizes to add, and they are still coming in - so get your order for "By the Hearth" in before Nov. 7th to be in the running!