Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The UP - Part 2, Plants

Considering that the purpose of the trip was to put together a shop, we did manage to ge outside quite a bit. Karen learned to brake fairly quickly as soon as she heard me gasp loudly, shriek, or just yell, "Stop! Stop! Stop!" I brought home some uva ursi, but it remains to be seen whether it will survive. It will reach 94 degrees later today, but last week in the UP it struggled to reach 60. My shorts and sandals didn't keep me very warm outside.
Here are some of the pictures I took. Not all of them are identified, and some of them I'm not certain about....
Lake Superior

There are drifts of wild forget-me-nots everywhere.

Marsh marigolds are in wet ditches along many of the roadways.

Baby horsetail grow next to a small mullein.

A small section of a very large colony of Jack-in-the-pulpit

*IF* these are the leaves of ladyslipper, Karen's woods have millions of them. I want to see pictures in a week or two. Karen? Are you listening?

This is uva ursi, or bearberry. It grows everywhere right along with wild blueberry, partridge berry, wintergreen, and wild strawberry. It is a berry berry place!

Tiny white trillium....

Tiny pink trillium....

Trailing arbutus climbed up the banks next to the dirt road....

Large yellow violet type flower, but the leaves are large and very fuzzy, pale green.

I do not know what this is, but have the distinct feeling that I should.
There were many, many more mystery plants. I suppose now I must go back someday in June when things are more identifiable.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Karen's Upper Peninsula - Part One

What an experience!
First let me tell you that a few weeks ago we were on the phone, and Karen said, "Well, we don't work on paper girlfriend, but we sure have fun." Truer words were never spoken. We couldn't be more different in our religious and political beliefs and opinions. We talk a good bit about those things, but it is discussion. We don't expect to change each other, but instead try to help each other see the other side without fear or anger.
When I was a little girl, my friends ranged from Mennonite and River Brethren to Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist and everything in between. My first real best friend in HS was Jewish. By the age of 6 or 7 I was attending several different Vacation Bible Schools each summer with my friends, and knew the only way to the graham crackers and orange ade was by saying what the grown ups wanted to hear. Somehow my brothers sang in an Episcopal choir even though we were Methodists.
My point is that there was a time when different beliefs were normal, accepted, and people didn't let them cause rifts. REMEMBER??? Many mosses and fungi line the rocks and earth on Karen's mountain. I really wish there had been more time. Like that DAY of the trip that I missed because the stewardess didn't make it to work!

So that part of the visit was stimulating and fun - even if Karen kept telling my sister she was going to kidnap me, and Maryanne was ready to rescue me. In fact the ruse continued right up to the trip to drop me off, when Karen pretended to run out of gas. Ahahahaha... she had me going there.
To get to the Upper Peninsula, I left Detroit and flew into Marquette. Flying over that part of Michigan, it was clear that most of the land has water somewhere near the surface. Silver lines and streaks shone up at me and I wondered if there had been a lot of flooding. Many of the fields had some standing water, but as we went north, the appearance became just a little marshier. Karen later pointed out that the peninsula was in the middle of the Great Lakes.
The Marquette airport is about the size of the Lancaster airport. Maybe smaller. It's very nice with a tiny gift shop, a couple of soda machines, a very thorough security checkpoint (!!!) and lots of seating with great views. Wild Blueberries are everywhere you look, almost as prevalent as dandelions or plantain in my part of PA.

As soon as I got there, we zipped through to the soap class that Karen had set up. There were between 12 and 14 women there, and it was an active and animated group. So much easier to teach to people who are involved in what you're talking about!
I was dying to get into the woods, but as the class continued it became clear that it would be at least 9:30 before we got home. Tomorrow... Ah, but Karen tells me that it stays light until past 10! Can that really be? As a matter of fact, it can. I've managed to identify this plant as dwarf ginseng, but do not believe it has the same properties of the plant we'd like it to be. Need more research, but I think there is probably gingseng in those woods...

We go home and get our boots, the dogs, and Karen takes a firearm, telling me that at dusk the bears, gray wolves, and she rattled off some other dangerous animals that I had stopped hearing by that point, would be active and we needed to protect ourselves. The dogs were pretty noisy though, so that would help. The corgis - That's Cody standing, Griz is behind sweet baby Prissy, and old Pebbles leans on the cabinet wishing she were an only dog. They keep things pretty interesting around the Mallinger house.

We got to spend a good 45 minutes climbing around, and I got to find out that my foraging skills are all but useless in the U.P. It is very early and not much is actually blooming yet, but even so I was humbled. The light was terrible for photography, and we got home just as the sun went over the mountain. Below is a brief clip that is meant to let you hear the spring peepers, but you can also see that it is still somewhat light after 10 pm.
Tomorrow the real work begins!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tina Flies - Transportation Woes

I used to have the coolest t-shirt. On it, there were scores of winged women soaring around above the earth, and underneath it said, "Women fly when men aren't watching." I expect that everyone who liked that shirt connected to the idea in their own way. For me, it was having lived through Women's Lib and before, when women did their best work when they didn't have to worry about doing too well or bruising an ego. We were free to do our best when we were not watched by men.Early morning concourse at Harrisburg Int'l Airport, overlooking
Three Mile Island cooling towers.
However, in recent days I was flying in a different sense.
My friend Karen Mallinger of All Goode Gifts in Negaunee MI has been nagging (no, I am not exaggerating) me for years to go visit her. She's got acres and acres of wilderness and hoped I could identify some of the plants. I've been doing local weed walks for decades, so it seemed a reasonable expectation.
At the same time, I've been nagging her to open a brick and mortar shop in her area. A couple weeks ago everything banged and clanged together with her offering me transportation to go help her put a shop together for a few days and wander her woods.
Monday of this week I was to get on a plane and start my trip to her place.
I have never flown anywhere alone before.
Now I feel almost like a pro.
Monday evening after getting through security without a hitch I saw that the flight was delayed, but there was still time to make my connection in Detroit. I started chatting with the women next to me who were worried about missing their connection to AZ. You want to know how naive I am? I said, "Well they HAVE computers, right? They KNOW we need to make connections - they'll make it right."
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Go ahead. You laugh too. It's okay.
Eventually I joined the other passengers in the long line and rescheduled our flights because it was pushed back again, and there was no way I wanted to sleep in the Detroit airport. Why was it delayed? A stewardess didn't get to work.
9:30 on Tuesday morning we start again. Again there was a 2 hour delay, but I had a long layover in Detroit. I didn't arrive in Marquette until nearly 5pm, losing an entire day. The soap class took place right on schedule at 6:30 on Tuesday night, with the only crisis being that we forgot to grab the hot plate during our 2.5 minutes at the house before heading out for the class. Karen's hubby Michael brought it over for us.
The visit that followed will be another entry.
Thursday we had pre-printed the on-line boarding passes, and Karen had also obtained a voucher from the airline after writing them a well-worded missive about the trip. We head back to Marquette so that I can start out again at 5:00 ish.
The trip from Marquette to Detroit was a high point in the traveling portion of the trip. My seat-mate was a writer/reporter on assignment from a major publication traveling around to the various subjects of his assignment. We had such a pleasant and amusing conversation that I was sorry the flight was over. It was truly the last enjoyable part of the trip.
For the next 4 hours, I schlepped my luggage and myself to 3 different gates as the flight that at first seemed to be on-time joined the long list of delayed flights. I was very worried that it might join those that were canceled - especially after my daughter called to let me know there was a tornado warning at home. The weather was violent and dangerous in many parts of the country last evening, and I believe that our plane might well have been one of the last leaving the airport. The last half hour or so of the flight reminded me of a kiddie ride at an amusement park, but I was so tired and so eager to see my family that it just didn't bother me.
So that was all the excitement I need for a while.
It wasn't as bad as I expected, yet it wasn't as good either. I had no trouble winding my way through the chaos, but the airline was not nearly as professional as they used to be. They don't care if you have a bad experience.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Earliest Garden Treats

Gardens are starting to offer fresh food. My sister has been eating asparagus nearly every day for a few weeks now. Every year I think they'll eventually get tired of it and some will come my way, but it's time to give up that plan and plant my own.
There are a lot of other spring veggies we look forward to as well. Spinach is one of the first to come in, and spring, or snow peas. Today we're talking about rhubarb, stawberry, and garlic scapes. Here are some slightly different recipes instead of the usual jelly, shortcake, and.... compost (for the scapes).
They're only here for a short time, so be sure and eat some of the fleeting and delicious spring fruits and vegetables.
Double Crunch Bumbleberry Crisp

1 cup flour
1 cuprolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup cold water
1 tsp grated orange rind

1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup sliced peeled apples
1 cup blueberries

Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamom, and nutmeg. Stir in butter.
Press 1/2 of the mixture into a greased 9" square cake pan.
In small saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch.
Whisk in water and rind until smooth.
Bring to boil, reduce heat to med-low and cook 5 min or until thickened and clear, whisking constantly.
Toss together fruit.
Arrange over base.
Pour sauce over top.
Sprinkle with remaining flour mixture.
Bake in a 350F oven 50-60 min or until fruit is tender and topping is golden.
Serve warm.
Makes 8 servings; per serving: 380 calories, 4 g protein, 13 g fat, 65 g carbs.
from www.rhubarbinfo.com
Strawberry Salsa

1 c coursely chopped strawberries
1 T orange juice
1 t orange zest
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 t Dijon mustard
2 T dried currants
2 T red wine vinegar
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Chill and serve with grilled fish or chicken.
Garlic Scape Pesto

1 c garlic scapes (8 or 9), top flowery part removed, cut into 1/4" slices
1/3 c walnuts
3/4 c olive oil
1/4 - 12 C grated parmesan cheese
1/2 t salt
black pepper to taste
Place scapes and nuts into food processor and process until well combined and somewhat smooth. Add oil in a drizzle until well blended. Scoop pesto from processor to mixing bowl and add parmesan to taste. Add salt and pepper.
Use 1/4 to 1/3 cup pesto to one pound of pasta.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Creek Stompin'

Creek Stompin’
The Essential Herbal Magazine '02

By Tina Sams

I am a fool for Spring. At five foot, two inches, I sometimes watch toddlers, and envy their proximity to the earth and the flowers, weeds, and critters that are down there. People sometimes ask me how my interest in wildcrafting started. It was always there; I distinctly remember finding a clump of Dutchman’s Breeches in the woods behind the house at about age 6, and feeling like it was a pirate’s long buried treasure. I wanted to share the treasure, but nobody at home was very interested. That would often be the case, and it is still often a source of frustration to me. The truth is, my grandfather was the catalyst. A quiet, gentle man of the earth, he’d take me for aimless walks and find wild strawberries to munch, angelica to smell, and sassafras mittens to admire and sniff. Walking through cornfields in Autumn, we’d pick up the leftover corn to scatter in the woods outside the kitchen window, so we could watch the animals that came to eat it. Okay, okay…. So sometimes they wound up on the supper table…. We’d spend days catching crayfish and newts in the creek, and sometimes we’d go looking for salamanders (he called them sallies) under rocks. The absolute best way to get into the natural world was to just hike down shallow creeks, looking for whatever showed itself. He was a child at heart, and that was his gift to me. He gave me a sense of wonder at the world at my feet.

Traveling is just another opportunity to see what’s growing. I’m that woman you see stopped along the highway, 4-way flashers on, scrambling up the bank to get a closer look at some odd bush or wildflower. Once, I spent a Spring in Southern Virginia. Every morning there was a new plant to try to identify, smell, taste, or just gaze at. The toadflax there was pale blue and magenta, and I would sit for hours looking at the field of dancing blue. Never mind that it was supposed to be spinach… My companion teased me mercilessly. As we drove along, I would gasp at the sight of blue-eyed grass or redbud trees, and he would slam on the brakes, thinking that something was wrong. Spring is a tough time to be around those of us who hear the plants calling. We most likely shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

So that time is here again. When I pull on my boots, I am suddenly 7 years old again. Into a small, handled enamel pail go gloves, snips, a couple field guides, and baggies. It is most fun to go with kindred spirits with whom one can share the treasure, but going alone is an experience that returns me to center as well.

Yesterday I went alone. It’s the Easter weekend, and my cohorts are busy. It felt like everything was there just for me. The air was so fresh, and the temperature was perfect. The birds were easily visible in the budding branches and called to each other with great gusto. I heard a ringneck pheasant call, and then he was standing right in the path. They are almost too beautiful to be real.

Gracelessly clamoring down a steep embankment, I stopped short and knelt down at the sight of some wood violets. Around the next bend stood a huge clump of wild grape hyacinth. Throughout the area were 4’ nettle plants. Some of them came home for dinner….

Some days I come home with a pail full of things to eat or make into tincture. Other days the pail is empty but the mind is relaxed and filled with joy. Some that stand out? Finding acres of trout lilies and touching them….hardly believing my luck. Seeing wild blueberry bushes bloom for the first time, and recognizing them instantly. Waking to find bluets scattered across the yard like stars.

Maybe it is a compulsion. It is most definitely an obsession. But it is sad to think that nature scatters these jewels all around us and some people don’t even see them. At the same time, I take my share of ribbing. I’ve been likened to a goat, kicking and bleating at the sight of elder in bloom. And some question the sanity of picking a wild salad when it is so readily available in bags at the grocery.

To ease into a wild salad, try adding some (or all) of the following to some mesclun mix.

Daylily buds violet flowers and leaves rose petals

Sheep sorrel young dandelion leaves garlic mustard greens

Chickweed lamb’s quarters wild mustard

OR try a stirfry using daylily buds, garlic mustard greens, store bought mushrooms, and sesame seeds. Chicken or shrimp can be added, and using sesame oil is incredibly tasty.

To eat the nettles, it must be cooked enough to wilt and turn bright green. Purists may have some trouble with this method, but it is easy and cuts down on the number of times the prickly nettle needs to be handled. Wearing gloves, fill a plastic bag (flat bottom is best) with the tender tops of the nettle plant. At home, open the bag and sprinkle just a bit of water into the bag. Place in the microwave, and cook for about a minute. It is ready to eat…. Delicious, nutritious, and of course – free!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Soap Pot - Basics of Soapmaking

The Soap Pot - Basics of Soapmaking

Alicia Grosso

Jan/Feb 08 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine - the beginning of an amazing on-going series by Alicia.

Hello, herbal people! I am so happy to be here, to be part of this great herbal community. I’ve used herbs in soap as long as I’ve been making soap. Making soap and working with herbs are two of my favorite activities and putting them together is a special kind of happiness.

Tina has told me that many of you are already accomplished soapmakers, and that many of you have never made soap at all. I want to start somewhere along that continuum, in hopes of having something useful for everyone. In almost everything I do, I believe that the basics are well revisited. I’m going to give a very basic soapmaking procedure and formula, and elaborate on it by giving instructions for a “folded” herbal soap.

Please Note – Although soapmaking is pretty simple once you know what you are doing, you need to be sure to have everything you need before starting. In Particular – Protection for your eyes and skin. Protective eyewear is an immutable essential. I’m a wild and wooly type, eschewing garden gloves and even shoes most of the time. And, I never make soap without eye protection. You also need protective gloves, and regular old yellow kitchen gloves – with no holes – are perfect.

An extremely useful basic set up for small batches of soap can most likely be had with little effort. Gather two four-cup Pyrex measuring cups, a scale that weighs at least to .25 ounces, a silicone spatula/scraper, a few small plastic food storage containers or drawer organizers, and a hand towel. You’ll mix and combine in the Pyrex cups, stir with the spatula, use the containers as molds, and the towel as insulation. And don’t forget your eye and hand protection!

To make soap, you need to have lye, aka sodium hydroxide. If you quail at the memory of “Grandma’s Lye Soap” take heart – time and trial has vastly improved home made soap. Every oil and fat has a “saponification value” which is the amount of lye it takes to turn it into soap. You use enough lye, mixed with water, to saponify the blend of oils you are using. It is very important that when you combine the lye and water that you always add the lye to the water and not the other way around. The reaction between the lye and the water is immediate and intense – making the solution heat up to near boiling almost instantly. It will steam, and be sure not to inhale it. Some people wear a fume mask, turn on a fan once the solution is made, or make the solution outside. For these recipes, you’ll be working with about 2 – 2.25 ounces of lye to 5 ounces of water, so the steam won’t be unmanageable. You can buy lye at some Big Box stores, and you can always find it online through soap supply shops. It is worth noting that Red Devil Lye, the brand that my Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers used to make soap (once they stopped leaching water through wood ash to make lye solution) has gone out of business. On the old metal cans there was even a recipe for making soap! Apparently the misguided people who make Methamphetamine – aka “crank” - use lye to make it and it has created all kinds of restrictions on the lye business. So, lye is less easy to find, but you can manage it without much fooling around.

These recipes use a technique that many call “room temperature cold process.” I prefer to call it “energy exchange.” It has been customary procedure for some time for home soapmakers to warm the oils to about 100˚ - 120˚ after the lye solution has cooled to that range, and mix the two when the temperatures match. I’ve found that for simple recipes, using the heat from the lye solution to warm and/or melt the oils is a better way to use the energy generated by the lye/water reaction.

Recipe One – 100% Olive Oil Soap

This makes a very hard bar with a low, creamy foam. Soap at its most simple.


16 ounces olive oil

Make sure you get 100% olive oil and not a blend. You can use Extra Virgin, Pomace, Organic, any kind you like.

2 oz. lye

5 oz. water


In one of the Pyrex 4 cup measures, place 16 oz of olive oil.

Put on your gloves and goggles.

In the other, place 5 ounces of water. Weigh the 2 ounces of lye into a small plastic container – a single-serving yogurt container is perfect. Stirring and leaning away from the steam, sprinkle the lye onto the surface of the water a little at a time. Stir until the lye is dissolved. Put the container you used to measure the lye in the sink and rinse without splashing.

Pour the hot lye solution in a stream into the olive oil, stirring constantly. Place the empty lye solution Pyrex into the sink and rinse without splashing.

Go back to the “baby soap” and begin stirring. If this is the first time you’ve made soap, go ahead and keep stirring with the spatula until the mixture is the thickness of crepe batter or heavy cream, this could happen anywhere from right a way to over an hour. (Once you’ve made soap a few times, get an inexpensive immersion blender to save time.) The varying states of thickness are called “trace.” New soapmakers tend to get very stressed, wondering, “Has it traced yet?” The mixture goes from translucent to opaque as you stir it, thickening as you go. You want to be sure the chemical reaction is well under way, and “trace” is the way to tell. When you think it is getting thick, lift the spatula and let the “batter” dribble back onto the surface of the soap. If it sits on the surface of the batter for a little bit before sinking in, it is tracing. You want to pour it into the mold before it gets so thick that you have to scoop and glop it.

Once the soap is traced, pour it into the molds. This recipe makes about 23 ounces, and you can pour it all into one container or divide it into a few smaller ones. Scrape all the mixture out of the Pyrex, put the Pyrex and spatula in the sink.

Spread out the towel on a surface where the soap can sit undisturbed. If you use multiple containers, line them up side by side so that they touch. Fold the towel over the filled molds, and let it sit while you clean up.

Wipe any leftover soap out of the Pyrex with a paper towel and put it in a baggie. When the soap on the paper towel finishes saponifying, you’ll have a nice soap-permeated cleaning cloth. Be sure to never rinse blobs of raw soap down the drain, as it will make a terrible clog. Be sure you wear your goggles and gloves during clean up. Very hot water and detergent will take care of the clean up in no time. Wash everything and set it out to dry.

Now, turn your attention back to your soap. It will get firmer as it sits, and will probably cool off and heat up a couple of times over night. When you are starting, wait two days before taking it out of the mold. To make this easy, put the full molds in the freezer for about an hour, take them out - wearing eye and hand protection - and place them upside down on a paper-covered work surface. Push on the bottom of the container and the soap should pop right out. If it doesn’t, put it back in the freezer for another hour, and try again.

There you have it, fresh soap, sitting right there! Use a stainless steel knife to cut it into bars, choosing the size that appeals to you. Sit the soap to dry and cure for about two weeks on brown paper in an out of the way place. Turn the bars every couple of days.

Recipe #2 – My favorite basic.

This makes a gentle very bubbly soap.


11 ounces olive oil

5 ounces coconut oil

You can usually find it in jars at the health food store. It is solid at room temperature. This is what makes the lovely lather.

.5 ounce (1 Tablespoon) Castor oil

You can find this in small amounts in the laxative section of the pharmacy. When you make more soap, go ahead an order some online for much better prices. This tiny amount of castor oil is a big boost to your lather.

2.25 oz. lye

5 oz. water

The procedure is the same, the only slight difference that the coconut oil will be melted by the heat of the lye solution. That heat is enough to melt the coconut without trouble.

So, there you have them, two recipes for small amounts of simple, perfect soap. Now, to add the herbs.

Almost any herb you can grow can be used in some way in soapmaking. Whether or not the benefits of any herbs survive the soapmaking process is up for debate. A bright green peppermint fleck will turn brown in a few days, and beautiful lavender buds will look a lot like dead fleas. But, it doesn’t matter to me; I love to load up my bars with as much herb power as possible.

Herbal infused water – Basically strong herbal tea; train out the depleted herbs before using. Use this in place of plain water to make the lye solution. Be sure that it is cold! You don’t want more heat in that lye solution. Usually, herb infused water will turn greenish brown or bright orange or some other alarming color and have an even more alarming odor. Don’t worry; neither the color nor smell will make it into the bars.

Herb infused oil – Infuse your liquid oils as usual, straining out any depleted herbs before using. The soap may get some color from infused oils, but not usually.

Herb bits and pieces – you can add dry herbs to your soap as it begins to trace. Make sure the soap is thick enough to suspend the herbs throughout the mass so they don’t all sink to the bottom or float on the top. If you want to make an herbal layer on the top of the soap, add the herb topping after the soap has been poured. Almost all herbs turn brown when stirred into the soap, so big pieces can be kind of gross. Dried calendula petals keep their color and are very pretty stirred in as well as on top.

For a recent “soap swap” between fellow soapmakers, I made “three fold” herbal soaps, meaning I used the herb three ways to make the soap. I used freshly harvested herbs from my garden. For each soap – Comfrey, Lemon Verbena and Rosemary – I used herb infused- water and oils, and either stirred dried herb into the “batter” at trace or placed herbs on top as decoration. Another “fold” could be to add the matching essential oil, but in this case, I only wanted to use what came from my own garden. Which of course has me dreaming of a tiny still…

If you have questions about the herbal soapmaking projects in the column, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m always eager to talk soap and herbs! Please let us know if you have herbal soapmaking topics you’d like to see here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A new favorite - Ciro's Italian Bistro

We've found a new favorite place to go out to eat.Lancaster County has an amazing assortment of wonderful, quality eateries. Perhaps it has to do with the tourism, maybe the colleges, or maybe it is because we are accustomed to fresh, wholesome food here. Whatever the reason, it would be hard to beat the options available here.
So, it was a sort of challenge for the brother-in-law, after returning from a trip to Italy, to find real gelato. He traveled far and wide, scootering over all of the neighboring counties looking and sampling, never finding quite what he was looking for, until one day....
Maryanne and I rode past Ciro's Italian Bistro. It's on the corner of Fruitville Pike and Petersburg Rd. I saw the word "gelato" as we sped by and mentioned it to Maryanne. She told Bob immediately, and he had also been tipped off by someone else who'd tried it. It WAS the real thing.
So now we've visited several times. I haven't had a bad bite yet. The pasta dishes are divine. Today they had a peppery tomato lobster bisque that was one of the best soups I've ever had. The salads are imaginative and fresh, and if I could just develop a taste for goat cheese, there'd be nothing on the menu I wouldn't love.
Today we were eating together because nephew Rob is home for about 48 hours before heading to Boulder for an internship. We won't see him for a while.
Rob and Maryanne had salads while the rest of us had personal (10") handmade artisan pizzas (gluten free available). Molly had the Pollo and Pesto.
I had shrimp, garlic, and olive.
Bob had the Rustica - pepperoni, sausage, onion and pepper.
And then we hit the gelato bar. I tasted the raspberry and then the lemon, wavering momentarily on the lemon that tastes exactly like a lemon meringue pie, before choosing a small cup of chocolate and espresso mixed. I also tasted Molly's tiramisu gelato (yum!).They have a nice outdoor patio area that we might try next time.
Now I *should* be doing homework for the computer course we're taking to keep The Essential Herbal up to snuff, but as you can see, I'm still thinking about that gelato.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Fiber Building at Landis Valley

Many of my friends are fiber junkies. Trends come and go, so some of them are picking up needles and wheels for the first time during the last decade, while others have it in their blood, coming from families that grow the flax or cotton or fiber bearing animals. I have enough hobbies, so other than a little felting, some macrame and embroidery, I mostly admire the work of others. Occasionally The Essential Herbal magazine runs an article on dyeing or using plant fibers for twine, etc., but fiber is a topic all its own and we don't do a lot with it.
The museum that hosts the herb festival we attended this weekend also has an amazing array of just about anything one can imagine from early American farm life. If I recall correctly, two brothers (the "Landis boys") were basically some hybrid of collector/hoarder - depending on who you talk to. They held on to everything and collected a lot of things that had no apparent value at the time. I know someone like that now, who continues to purchase buildings to contain his vast collection of seemingly pointless stuff, and wonder sometimes if he is a modern-day Landis boy, or if they were viewed in the same negative light he is now.
The building that houses the collection of fiber processing equipment had at one time an impressive dyer's garden out front. Perhaps it was too early in the season, but I fear that many of the dyeing plants have wandered off. Inside, however..... wow.
As you enter the building, you immediately face one of two large, working looms. Another is set up at the other end of the room.
There is an aisle down the center of the room, and to one side, you see a selection of spinning wheels.

Here in Lancaster County, hemp and flax were grown and used quite a bit in the early days. Especially hemp. We have East and West Hempfield townships, Hempfield school district, and a history enriched by hemp.
The demonstration room uses flax and most likely there is a fair flax patch on the farm somewhere. Photo from WildflowerInformation.org, flax is an unassuming plant. It is lovely in bloom and the stems yield a sturdy fiber that we've come to know as linen. Linseed oil also comes from flax.
In this picture, the first object is a hemp wheel, made specifically for spinning hemp. The second object is for flax. Notice the use of the adjective "tow". Now at some point I'm going to have to sniff around and find out if the term "towhead" for one with light-colored hair comes from the hand-processing of flax!
The fibers grow down the length of the stems, reminding me of the long strings that form in celery stalks, except that in flax, they make up most of the thin stem.
They were brushed out with this nasty looking apparatus, and then spun into beautiful, linen which would then be woven into cloth on the looms.

One of our friends spent time watching the blacksmith and plans to take some classes now.
Seriously, Landis Valley Museum is a gem. Visit if you're in our area, and if you've living here and would like to volunteer, they can use you!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

2011 Landis Valley Herb Faire

This little clip shows about 1/10th of the actual festival.
It is always a very enjoyable festival, and this year didn't disappoint us. We helped out at Kathy Musser's Cloverleaf Herb Farm booth, but I'm not sure how much help we really were. There were so many friends to talk to! The herb festivals always make me feel like we were all in hibernation and we are waking up and getting out and greeting each other for the first time in a long time.
The staff at Landis Valley does an amazing job of putting together this faire. The Heirloom Seed Project that is part of what the museum at Landis Valley does benefits from faire, but I'm not sure that anyone really recognizes what the faire has done for this region and the herbies residing and doing business here. The herbal community here is rich and varied. We are very fortunate.
The grounds of Landis Valley are a perfect backdrop for this type of event. Various period buildings have been moved to this location, creating a village with a blacksmith shop, a general store, an inn, a fire company, several barns, and various houses (among other things).
There is some farming done and it is done in the manner of the period. The work animals are enormous oxen and drought horses. There is a feeling of peace and quiet beneath all of the activity.
At opening time on Friday morning, there is just about any herb plant or product one could desire. By noon, many of the more unusual or most sought after things are sold out. This means that Friday morning brings out the serious herb shopper. Saturday is much more mellow and laid-back.
There is so much to see and do there. There are plantings around the farmstead like this celandine used for dyeing... or this large horseradish patch.
Personally, I got to talk to about 100 great herbie friends over the last two days and had a ball. Some "ghosts" from the past even came out to visit :-).
I made several purchases. My favorite (by far!) is this persimmon tree. It is already in the ground and happily snuggled into its new home.
If you are ever in Lancaster County over the weekend of Mother's Day, do not miss this herbal event!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Blend up some herbal tea.

In my first spring and summer of seriously learning about foraging and wild crafting, I made a wonderful tea blend. While wandering through field, stream, woods, and mountainside, I would gather handfuls of different plants. After researching to be sure of their identity and properties, they would be dried on a screen and added to a large glass jar.

Now this particular jar of tea was truly wonderful. There were the usual suspects, of course ….peppermint, chamomile, and leaves from strawberry and red raspberry. As the herb garden grew, a few leaves of sage, a sprig or two of thyme, basil, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and comfrey found their way into the jar. Violets and their foliage went in, as did the beautiful wild roses, elderflower and honeysuckle blossoms. As the bee balm began to bloom, a few heads were dried for the tea jar. Dried nettles and cleavers and Echinacea leaves became part of the tea, and then some wonderful spices – star anise, ginger root, cardamom seed, cinnamon bark. Mid summer, raspberries, elderberries and blueberries were added along with gooseberry leaves. In the late part of the summer, I found and added rose hips.

Eventually I wound up with a gallon jar of really gorgeous dried botanicals. Each cup was completely different- in color, flavor, and scent. We had stevia and licorice root sticks on hand for sweetening, and for that winter, friends visiting our home would look forward to a cup of that special tea – always a surprise, always delicious.

It was great fun creating that blend, and it was also a time of learning. By the end of that year, it was clear that it is very difficult to make a bad cup of herbal tea, and “simple” to make a fabulous blend.
The purpose of telling this story is to encourage you to try making some blends of your own. Making teas with herbs has always been a part of the human culture. The folkloric use of herb teas is easy to find, and in this part of the country, still passed on from mother to daughter. Peppermint tea for upset stomachs, catnip and fennel to help the nursing mother, valerian root tea for sleeplessness, horehound or mullein for coughs, feverfew for migraines, sage tea for night sweats, ginger tea for morning sickness, slippery elm bark or marshmallow root for any digestive problem from lips to anus, chamomile for just about anything, St. John’s wort for the blues, and the list goes on and on. We used these plants for centuries. Now there are warnings and issues of drug interactions and this or that might be a carcinogen. Comfrey is a wonderful healing plant, but it is labeled as dangerous – the active ingredient allantoin may cause tumors in lab rats if taken in huge quantities. Ephedra was almost magical in helping people with asthma, but it has now been removed from shelves because some people used it to create an amphetamine-like product. Kava will probably be next. St John’s wort is hanging in there for now, but use is discouraged because it will interact with some pharmaceuticals. So does grapefruit, by the way….. Our advice? Use all things in moderation.

This article is an excerpt from:
available from The Essential Herbal website, under "Books" and it was written by yours truly.