Saturday, April 30, 2011

X Gardening in the High Country of Colorado

At The Essential Herbal this issue (May/June) we were thrilled to not only get an amazing cornucopia of articles that caused us to add extra pages, but Kristie Nackord of Spirit Horse Herbals sent this article with gorgeous pictures that we wanted to share with you here.

Growing Medicinal Herbs in the High Country

We call it X-Gardening!

Warning… it’s not for the faint of heart.

Sure, doing back flips on a snow board, jumping out of airplanes, or screeching around on a skateboard up and down half pipes can be thrilling indeed! But for me, nothing compares to the Extreme Gardening experience of growing herbs at 8300 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado! With a cool growing season of 90-days or less, coupled with mid-summer hail storms, unexpected freezes, and gale force wind, nothing keeps me on my ‘growing toe’s more than Mother Nature herself.

The good news is you can live in the majestic mountains and still successfully grow herbs. In fact, there are many inexpensive and sustainable techniques you can utilize to extend your season and protect your plants to produce a bounty of highly potent and nutritious herbs each year.

Site Selection: Proper site selection applies to whether you live at sea level or in the mountains of Colorado.
Place your shade loving plants in the shade and place those sun worshipers, well, in the sun! For those plants that like to take over the world, place them in their own designated area where they can’t encroach on other plants, or put them in containers. Here in the high country there are very few plants I have to do that with but there are some like stinging nettles and any members of the mint family including lemon balm that I am mindful with.

Plant Selection: Bottom line is that I grow fast growing herbs that like it cool, high and dry. I’ve got a 90-day window to grow within, so when I am choosing plants or seeds I am always careful to select varieties that fall within these requirements and that are hardy to zone 3. Most importantly, find a local seed lending library or purchase your plants and seeds from companies that offer varieties that are already adapted for the high country. For example, I grow a variety of basil sold by Seeds Trust called Italian Mountain Basil. It is a fast growing variety that comes from the mountains of northern Italy that is more tolerant of cold climates. Some of my other all time favorites that thrive in the high country include: Calendula, Cilantro, Thyme, Motherwort, Mugwort, Self Heal, Arnica, Borage, Nasturtium, Bee Balm, Stinging Nettles, Chamomile, Dandelion, Mullein, Red Clover, Alfalfa, and Comfrey. Sadly, this does not include tropical loving or temperate loving herbs such as lavender, rosemary, lemon grass or passion flower. You can grow these beauties as annuals or if you have cover such as a greenhouse.

Grow bio-intensively: This is THE key for growing herbs successfully in the mountains. Originally developed by Alan Chadwick in the 70’s and now evolved by John Jeavons, growing bio-intensively has many benefits. By double digging your beds two feet deep and spacing your plants equidistantly, you are able to pack in 2 to 3 times more plants in half the space of traditional row gardening. For numerous different reasons this method of sustainable growing offers heat and water retention and weed suppression. For more information on Growing Bio-intensively please visit John Jeavons website

Compost and Mulch: It’s free! And it works. In addition to compost, I use what is available to me and that also includes aged horse manure turned into my beds. For mulch on my beds or in the aisle ways of my garden, I use spoiled hay or straw and I pack it on thick. Leave room around the crown of your plant and you will be pleasantly surprised how much water retention and weed suppression this little bit of effort affords.

Cover: There are many different types of cover you can use. One of my favorites is the ‘American Bell Jar”. Also known as a plastic jug with the bottom cut off! If you have a small, tender herb that is struggling or newly transplanted, place a plastic jug over it with the lid off. Once your plant is healthy and strong attempting to burst out of the jug, remove it! Hoop houses, cold frames, and greenhouses are other forms of cover and they not only protect your plants from hail, wind, and freezes, but they also extend your season. They also allow you to grow some of your tender or heat loving herbs.

And the most important elements you can bring to your garden whether you live in the mountains, desert, or near the ocean, is love, joy, and gratitude for the miracle of creation.

Good growing to you~

Originally from northern California, Kristie is entering her fifth season growing in the high country in Westcliffe, Colorado. Kristie is the herbalicious herb girl behind Spirit Horse Herbals, a boutique producer of medicinal herbal products.

If you have enjoyed this article, The Essential Herbal is available by subscription. The print magazine will come to your door every 2 months, filled with great herbal information.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Heaven Scent Sachets

Heaven Scent Sachets
By Diane Runge (published in the Jan/Feb 11 issue of The Essential Herbal)

Creating a sachet is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to transform dried herbs and flowers into beautiful, aromatic sweet bags of fragrance. Originally used to dispel odors and protect wool clothing from moths, sachets have blossomed into a year-round industry. Tucked into bath and body baskets, tied to a gift box or simply made for yourself, sachets capture the spirit of a long-ago era of elegance.

Making sachets can be done any time of the year as long as you have ample amounts of dried plant material, but it is most rewarding during the dark, cold winter months when the joy of a summer garden is but a distant memory.

After the bustle of the holiday season has ended, sachet- making will sooth your mind and comfort your body as you sift through bowls of dried lavender, rose petals and gardenia flowers.

Growing herbs and flowers for sachets can become a fascinating gardening experience as you discover new and unusual scented plants. Before the first spring daffodil appears, take the time to search seed catalogs for the varieties of herbs you wish to grow. Gardening organically is the perfect way to obtain the heady aroma and intense color of herbs, ensuring a long-lasting perfumed sachet.

If you have a green thumb but your growing space is limited, one or two large patio pots planted with rosemary, lemon thymes, fragrant oreganos and a hanging basket of mint will yield sufficient plant material to make several sachets. Wine barrels and window boxes are also good choices for small- space gardening as long as you place the containers in a sunny location. Contrary to popular belief, herbs do enjoy a little lunch now and then and an application of organic fertilizer to the garden patch or flower pot will get the herbs off to a good, healthy sta

Making sachets can become a lucrative ‘’cottage industry’’ by selling your creations at farmer’s markets or craft fairs in your area. Experiment with different blends before venturing into the business world with your new product. Floral blends, citrus or woodsy mixes and specialty moth repellent sachets are fast-selling items as the demand for hand-made, natural products increases.

Explore the wonderful world of sachet- making and expand your horizons into a delightful herbal adventure.

Lemon Sachet

Cut a piece of lace, cotton fabric or muslin into an 8’’ circle

Mix together in a large bowl the following dried ingredients

1 cup of dried lemon mint

½ cup of dried lemon verbena or lemon thyme

1 teaspoon crushed cloves

2 drops of lemon oil

2 cups of dried rose petals

2 teaspoons of orris root powder

½ cup dried lemon peel

Blend ingredients and place ¾ cup of plant material in the center of the fabric circle. Tie with a ribbon. Sachets can be hung in closets, cars to dispel cigarette smoke or anywhere you wish to have a touch of fragrance.

Orris root powder and lemon oil may be purchased at craft or natural food stores.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

The birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees...

This time of year in the natural world is downright sexy, isn't it?
The birds have been bonkers for a few weeks now, doing their mating dances, building nests, and hooking up on any branch or ledge that presents itself, even apparently mid-air on occasion. The fish congregate in wild group dances, thrashing and .... well, I'm sure they're just greeting their old friends after a long cold winter (uh huh). The bunnies are playing spirited games of "catch me" in the back yard, and lusty individuals of many species bellow and call, roam and search to relieve this craziness we gently call Spring Fever. Each morning I throw open the windows to the world's greatest singles' bar. The racket goes on all night long.
The plant world is having a party too. The amazing things plants do to lure in pollinators is enough to make a girl blush! It isn't so different than what the animals do, displaying colors and shapes that will draw the missing piece to their reproductive puzzle running (or flying) to them.
So in the Spring, I feel a little voyeuristic watching things unfold while at the same time loving the intriguing language of the plants.
I once wore a silk dress the exact shade of this wild mustard to an outdoor wedding. Within moments of arriving, it became clear that bugs of all sizes and shapes had designs on me, and nothing I did was going to deter them. Word to the wise - avoid this color for outdoor parties. Bonus points for silken finishes on the fabric.
Some people think I have "a dirty mind" but that really isn't altogether true. At least in my opinion. I think, "geez, people, look around!" Happy Spring, everyone!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Herbs of the Zodiac - ARIES

From The Essential Herbal Mar/Apr '10

The beginning of a series from Susanna Reppert Brill of The Rosemary House

The Herbs of the Zodiac are those botanicals that are planted or grow or are harvested during a certain sign of the Zodiac and are considered essential to the well being of those born under that particular sign. Practiced in Europe 300 years ago, Astrological Herbology provided remedies for most ailments. Physicians of that period were expected to be proficient in the study of medicine and botany and astrology. Today centuries of accumulated knowledge makes it difficult to keep up with even one of these three subjects.

Nicolas Culpepper (1616-1654) was the most famous of the Astrologer-Physician of that era. His “Complete Herbal” is still being reprinted and is recommended reading for those interested in further study of Herbal Astrology.

This is the first in a series of twelve articles on Herbs of the Zodiac. We will take a look at twelve herbs for each sign starting with the first sign in the Zodiac year. The Vernal Equinox heralds the advent of Spring. Many of us prefer to start our year with the “natural year” beginning with the greening and growing world.

Born between March 21 and April 19, Ariens are children of energy, heat and activation. They are best as pioneers and try new things enthusiastically. A Fire Sign, ruled by the Planet Mars. Ariens enjoy easily prepared foods, but also well-flavored and elegantly presented foods. They find closest friends among Aquarians.

Twelve of the Herbs for Aries:

Nettles , Urtica dioica, very nutritive used in soup or on the skin
Burnet, Poterium sanguisorba, cucumber flavor without the peptic effect, grow in your garden and harvest year round
Rosemary, Rosemarinus officianalis, That’s for remembrances as well as to season chicken and to stimulate circulation in an invigorating bath
Cayenne: Capsicum Annuum , A seasoning that aids circulation, cayenne pepper also deters insects
Broom: Sorghum vulgare, Sweeps clean. Garlic: Allium sativum, The healthiest of all herbs, garlic helped to build the pyramids; a herb “food for man or beast”
Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica Signifies love and domestic happiness, sweet to man and bees
Mustard: Brassica alba, Ancient symbol of faith, mustard conquers all; an aid to digestion and pretty in the fields
Hawthorne: Crataegus oxycantha, there is no plant more useful; use the flowers or fruits to make tea, jelly or bouquets
Horseradish: Cochlearia armoracia, Few remedies can compare to this horse of a radish; delicious on roast beef, indispensable for cocktail sauce
Tobacco: Nicotiana affinis, Starry white flowers with a heavenly fragrance, found growing here by Columbus, a marvelous insecticide, for it’s a killer
Blessed Thistle: Silybum marianum, the root expels melancholy.

Zesty Aries Mustard

1 pt salad dressing style mustard
¼ C prepared horseradish
1 T garlic powder
2 t cayenne

Mix together and store in the refridgerator overnight until the flavors marry. Serve with small cubes of mild cheese or use any way you would use mustard. Great on Roast Beef.

Article submitted by Susanna Reppert Brill, The Rosemary House, Mechanicsburg, PA. This Herbs of The Zodiac series was originally written by Bertha Reppert (1919-1999) in 1984.

The book, written by Bertha Reppert is available (and VERY reasonable) here:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

May/June 2011 The Essential Herbal Magazine

The newest issue is on the way to readers, so here's the teaser. It's got extra pages again, but I think this will be the last one for a while. The contents are amazing. We've got several fascinating crafts with full instructions. There are articles on the medicinal properties of a few different herbs, each with ways to prepare them for use as external applications as well as internally as medicines or as foods. There are great summer meal recipes, and there are articles on the experience of growing herbs in different ways. There is humor.
When it comes to a balance of information, this is probably one of my favorite issues in over 9 years. It is truly spectacular. Check it out!TABLE OF CONTENTS
Field Notes from the Editor
If you get the chance, teach.
Green Elder Ointment, Marci Tsohonis
We've often had recipes for the berries or blossoms of the elder, but this salve uses the leaves!
Butterbur: Little known Versatile Herb, Joe Smulevitz
A plant for migraine, allergies, and asthma with studies to back it up.
Composting Boot Camp, Marci Tsohonis
Marci and her husband gradually bring the neighbor into the composting camp.
Herb Notes, Rita Richardson
A page filled with tips, tricks, and treats using herbs all around the home.
Hemp Agrimony vs. Gravel Root, Cathy Walker
These cousins are sometimes difficult to tell apart, but we have our ways....
SouthRidge Treasures, Heartsease - Johnny Jump Up, Mary Ellen Wilcox
A sweet farmyard wildflower that is often overlooked, but useful in so many applications.
Growing Medicinal Herbs in the High Country, Kristie Nackord
I may have to put this article up on the blog soon because the pictures are so beautiful.
The Historic Herbal, Paints from Plants, Kathleen Setzer
An inspiring article that gets the creative juices running, using pigments from the garden!
The Herbal Adventures of the Twisted Sisters, Part 2, Tina Sams & Maryanne Schwartz
Opening our shop at the renaissance faire, what we learned immediately, and what we learned the next winter.
Cool Summer Salads, Susan Evans
3 great salads for summer, featuring ingredients like orzo, grilled veggies, kale, berries, bacon, and cabbage.
Spring Renewal-Drawer Sachets, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Change the scent when you clean the rooms with these sachets.
Third Trimester: The Last Haul!, Betsy May
Exercises, massage oil, and flower essences for 3rd trimester (but can be used by anyone, anytime).
Nettle - More Than a Cup of Tea, Mary Lou Kersey
This nutritious and delicious herb is a favorite of many, and here are reasons and methods to use even more.
The Soap Pot, Introduction to Milk Soap, Alicia Grosso
Milk soap is challenging, but our soap expert Alicia walks us through it.
Herbs, Meet Life… Life, Meet Herbs, Michele Brown
Hectic spring life on an herb farm.
An Introduction to Muscle Testing, Part 2, Karen Mallinger
The completion of an explanation of self muscle testing.
Herbs of the Zodiac: Cancer, Susanna Reppert Brill/Bertha Reppert
The herbs of Cancer are many in the lush early summer! A lovely potpourri recipe is included.
Go a Little Crazy with Oxeye Daisy- The Obvious Flower, Dianne Kidman
Next time you're in a field of daisies, you might want to gather some to take home.
Tea Dyed Silk Scarves, Jackie Johnson
I can see how this intro to plant dyeing will start a bunch of TEH readers on the road to a new obsession.
Louisiana Lagniappe, Shrimp Creole with Lemon Herbs, Sarah Liberta
Do you think lemon when you hear "Shrimp Creole"? Well, you will now!
In Praise of the Humble Dandelion, Melissa Nicole Sidelinger
How many ways can dandelions be used as food and medicine? It might be endless.
You Might Be an Herbie..., List
Our friend Marnie Plunkett asked the list to finish this sentence, and it ended up turning into a hilarious article.
Fresh Fruit Face Mask, Cindy Jones
It's summer. Wear some fruit!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Woodlands and Gathering Resin

It was a gorgeous day today. Our first day to hit 70 degrees. Looks like tomorrow might bring rain, plus I have lots of work to do on the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine before we mail it out on Friday, so I was dying to get into the woods and see what was popping up. Learned a couple of things....
#1 I need some good shoes for climbing the other side of the creek, and #2 there are ticks out there. I rarely go on the other side of the creek. Neither do the guinea fowl. There are deer ticks over there, and I was on the deer trail. Ick.
Aside from that, though. It was beautiful.
In my backyard, the violets are starting to open. They seem a little early. Usually we make violet syrup or jelly towards the end of April, but it is nice to see them!
Walking down the hill, the catkins are out on the hazelnut trees. They are full of them, and there are tassel-y places along the stems where the leaves are about to pop out. Hazel trees are really stunning and unusual. Just gorgeous.
We came upon the star magnolia, which is going to burst into bloom this week. The fuzzy little buds are cracking open and the creamy white blossoms are beginning to unfurl.
All along the pathway through the woods, you will find dainty spicebush with tiny yellow blossoms. The leaves haven't even begun to show. The leaves and wood are so fragrant.
Another thing that is everywhere is jewelweed. There will be acres of the juicy stalks and ours bloom orange. We cut and process quite a bit so that we'll have jewelweed soap throughout the year.
The patches of ramps on either side of the creek are slowly expanding. It is my hope that the water will carry seed along and the ramps will line the far side of the creekbed. That will be long after I'm gone, though.
Skunk cabbage is blooming. They are such a beautiful plant. Their lush leaves are so welcome in the spring, and their blooms are so peculiar that they are fascinating. The other day I read that skunk cabbage is one of the only plants to create warmth, allowing them to thaw the earth that surrounds them (I apologize that I cannot remember where that came from, because it would be great if I could give you the link).
We got to the top of the hill and walked along through the conifers planted in neat rows. I'm not sure how we noticed, but suddenly we saw the drops of resin that has been curing over the winter, ever since the trees were trimmed last year as soon as they were finished candling.The resin was as dry as frankincense tears one might purchase. I am an absolute resin freak, with a pretty large collection of incenses and resins. We've collected them since writing our book on making incense in 1999. I cannot believe that in the 20 some years that this tree farm has been in the family, I've never noticed this.
As I gathered these pinhead sized bits of gold, the rich, almost fruity pine fragrance was intoxicating. It made it very easy to see how a resin could be considered a gift of great enough value for kings to give as a gift to a messiah.
Today I gather scotch pine. I can't wait to see if there is resin on the balsam or concolor or spruce or.... any of the others. It is heavenly!