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!