Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bear Grease and Cottonwood Salve

Last week I twisted my lower back somehow, and after a few days it was almost back to normal, but we had a Balms & Salves class to give and that meant standing for a couple of hours.
Earlier in the day, we had all the stuff out for the class, and I decided to play a little and see if I couldn't make something that would help. I was very pleasantly surprised, and then we did it again at the end of the class to demonstrate just how forgiving and fun it can be to put together a recipe on the fly.
My sister has a nice bit of bear grease that was left over from a soapmaking adventure a while back, and I'd heard wonderful things about its healing properties. Since anything from wild animals is illegal to use in products for sale, we've been hanging onto it for ourselves. What a fun ingredient to be able to share with our class!
It is pure white, no discernible odor, and solid at room temp. I started out with that and put a nice dollop (about a cup) into a heavy saucepan over low heat.
To that, I added about a half cup of cottonwood buds in olive oil that my friend Marci sent me from the Pacific Northwest. Cottonwood buds are also known sometimes as "balm of gilead" and are used for pain relief among other things. As they heated up slowly in the warm oil, they opened up like flowers and released all of their resin into the oil.
The warmed oil was strained, and returned to low heat to melt in a small sprinkling (1 Tbsp) of beeswax pastilles. I really like the pastilles because less heat is needed to melt these tiny pellets.
A teaspoon or so of menthol crystals, a very aromatic, penetrating ingredient that is great on sore muscles went in after the mixture started to cool.
Essential oils of camphor, black pepper, and fragonia were at the end just before the salve was poured into jars. I wish I had noticed the ginger in the fridge when I was heating the oils...
As it turned out, this blend was everything I'd hoped for and provided immediate relief.
After going through well-measured demonstrations of lipbalm, lotion bars, and another all-purpose salve - which is my sister's favored method, it was fun to show the class my usual technique of "a little of this, a handful of that" and have it come out beautifully.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TEH Mar/Apr 2012 - Hot Off the Press!

Another jam-packed issue of The Essential Herbal is on its way to subscribers, full of ideas, information, and thoughts of spring! Take a look at our table of contents below, and you'll see a full array of herbie delights. If you haven't subscribed yet, just look at what you're missing:Field Notes from the Editor
How do you choose to share your herbie knowledge with others?

About the Cover
Betty Pillsbury shared one of her award-winning, hand-sewn crazy quilts for this issue.

The Faerie Ring, Lady Jess
As early spring arrives, have a care for the faerie ring

Roses, Betty Pillsbury
There are many ways to enjoy roses. Stopping to smell them is just the beginning!

Natural Coconut/Citrus Oil Wood Conditioner, Blanca Davila
A terrific help for that spring cleaning that's just around the corner

Eating Roses, Jim Long
Jim's been teaching us "How to Eat a Rose" with his book by that title for a few years now. He shares the details along with a wonderful recipe for rose sandwiches.

Herbal Connections, Bitters, Marita A Orr
Bitters are especially important in the spring, coincidentally the time that many bitter herbs are first available. Recipes and information abounds in this article in Marita's series.

Boneset - A Traditional Cold & Flu Remedy, Joe Smulevitz M.H.
How to use this valuable wild plant to help fight off colds and flu.

Celebrate International Women’s Day the Herbie Way, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Connecting herbs from around the world with this special day devoted to women.

How Women Came to have Knowledge of Plants, Jackie Johnson
A tale of healing and transformation.

Container Gardening, Tiffany M Psichopaidas
Space can be a difficult issue, but with some interesting containers, you can have that garden!

SouthRidge Treasures, Ginger, Mary Ellen Wilcox
Mmmm... tea, molasses loaf, and chutney as well as great information on ginger.

Make Medicine, Not Drugs, Paola Aliaga
How weeds can sometimes reach people that need it the most.

Women Herbalists, Lydia Pinkham, Susanna Reppert Brill
Susanna begins her new series on women herbalists with Lydia Pinkham. Fascinating information how the empire was built and how the industry changed.

The Historic Herbal, Making Kohl Eyeliner, Kathleen Setzer
That sexy, smoky, exotic look? Yes, you can make your own.

The Pleasure of Plotting & Planning an Herb Garden, Catherine Love
There's something so enjoyable about the very anticipation of gardening in the cold days of winter.

Don’t Rain on the Rhubarb … or the Asparagus, Rita Richardson
Delicious recipes and tips for these two flavors of spring

The Soap Pot, Rose Soap, Alicia Grosso
Rose soap - two ways. More sensational instructions and recipes from Alicia to keep us creating.

Frugal & Tasty Herbal Seasoning from Your Garden, Sandy Michelsen
Sandy shows us how easy it can be to just start blending - and love it.

Louisiana Lagniappe, Shrimp Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms,Sarah Liberta
Sheerly simple and delightful food that will make you or guests feel special.

Marian Flowers & Mary’s Gardens, Cindy Jones
Herbs and flowers that symbolize aspects of Mary, and the gardens that feature them.

The Roots of Food Independence are in the Garden, Melissa “Honeybee” Nicole Sidelinger
The importance of each of us taking some role in producing food for our family, and/or making responsible choices as to the origin of those foods we purchase.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Starting from Scratch with Seeds

from The Essential Herbal, Jan/Feb '10
Starting from Scratch with Seeds
Kathy Musser, Cloverleaf Herb Farm
Even though there are plenty of potted herbs and flowers ready for purchase, starting plants from seed can be both economical and satisfying. The cost of a pack of seeds is generally less than the price of a single potted plant. Seed catalogs provide a huge variety of choices. New cultivars, interesting colors or forms, and hard to find varieties are in abundance in catalogs. If you’re unsure of a plant’s color or form or how it will grow in your garden environment, the economical nature of seeds allows you to try a new plant without a large investment. Lastly, there’s the satisfaction of the process. Seed starting gives a hint of spring to come in dreary months. I love the process of starting seeds, transplanting the seedlings, planting out in the garden and harvesting and using these plants. It completes the cycle and provides satisfaction all along the way.
Materials aren’t expensive and are easily found. In addition to seeds, you’ll need lightweight soil-less mix. Try to get one labeled for seedlings, as it will be lightweight and drain well. Assemble your containers – plastic cell-packs, small pots or egg cartons. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of containers or poke holes to provide drainage. Trays to hold your containers and a plastic covering to hold in humidity are helpful. Plastic dome lids are made to fit right over flats or you can use clear plastic wrap stretched over the containers and attached with masking tape.
Place some mix in a bucket, etc. and apply water. Mix thoroughly so soil-less mix is uniformly moist. Fill your containers. Place seed in containers, press lightly into the mix. Label containers with variety name and date sown, using popsicle sticks or plastic stakes. Cover containers.
There is much helpful information on the back of the seed packet. The pack will tell you how many weeks (often 6-8) before setting out to start your seeds. Count back that number from the last frost date in your zone. For example, here in zone 6, our last frost date is usually mid-May. If the packet lists 6-8 weeks, start your seeds between mid-March and the beginning of April. Annuals (those you plant every year) generally grow easily from seed. Since they only grow one year, they must reproduce easily and fairly quickly. Perennials (which survive multiple seasons) often take longer to germinate and do so more sporadically. You may notice perennials often have a longer lead up time than annual seeds.
Seed packets often indicate a variety of needs, light or dark for germination. Seeds requiring light should be pressed into the soil, but not covered. Those requiring dark should be pressed into the mix and covered with more moistened mix. Larger seeds should be pressed into the mix and covered. If light vs. dark is not indicated, I follow a general rule: do not cover very small seeds and do cover larger ones.
Seeds have an outer coating that must break down before germination can occur. Seeds must be kept moist in order to germinate. For many varieties, bottom heat promotes germination. Heat mats are available from garden catalogs. You can also place seed trays on top of the refrigerator, which will provide sufficient, although not constant, bottom heat.
When seeds have germinated, remove plastic cover or wrap. Now the seedlings need sun for growth. Place seedlings in a sunny spot, preferably south-facing. Heat is not important now. In fact, seedlings grown in the lower range of normal household temperatures tend to be sturdier. If you’re growing a large number of seedlings, it’s worth investing in supplemental lighting. If you can set up a table with over-head fluorescent lighting, you don’t need to worry about finding enough space on sunny windowsills. Regular fluorescent tubes are fine. They should be hung on chains so the lights can be raised as the seedlings grow.
After germinating, seedlings need to be watered when they dry out. Overwatering at this point can lead to damping off, a fungal disease, which attacks at the base of the seedling, turning the stem gray and fuzzy and causing the plant to fall over. It can occur fairly quickly and there’s no reviving the plant once it happens. I find that even as seedlings, it’s better to let them dry out between waterings. This virtually eliminates damping off as a problem. Many sources recommend bottom watering. This is fine to do, but the necessary close monitoring of your seedlings for water is the most important factor. It’s easy to tell when soil-less mix is dry as the color lightens considerably.
Seedlings can be transplanted when they develop a second set of leaves. The first set are the same on almost all plants. The second set are actually the first set of “true leaves” and will vary according to the specific plant. Fill pots or peat pots with soil-less mix. Use a small spoon or seedling lifter (available in garden catalogs) to gently lift seedlings from container. Make a hole in the transplanting soil with your fingers and gently place seedling in soil. Don’t handle the seedlings by the leaves. Handle by the stem or better yet, by the root ball. Firm soil around seedling and water. Put seedlings back in sunny window or under lights. As the seedlings develop, you can begin the hardening off process leading up to planting in the garden or containers. Put potted plants outside in a protected spot, out of direct sun and shielded from wind. Bring them back inside at night. Each day, move them so they are more exposed to the elements. Watch watering carefully, as they will dry out more quickly as they’re exposed to more sun and wind. Follow this procedure for 10-14 days. At the end of this time, they can be transplanted to their final location once the last frost date has passed.
Some seeds require special treatment to help break down the protective coating. Very hard seeds can be soaked in warm water for an hour before planting or nicked with sandpaper or a nail file. Some perennial seeds should be sown, then placed in the refrigerator to simulate a cold dormancy period.
Whether it’s to stretch your plant buying budget, grow the perfect variety, or simply enjoy the process, get a jump start on spring by starting some plants from seed.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Aphrodisiacs, Love Potions, Philters and Charms

Aphrodisiacs, Love Potions, Philters and Charms
Cheryl Nolan
Jan/Feb '07 issue The Essential Herbal

She bent down and turned around and gave me a wink;
she said "I'm gonna mix it up right here in the sink."
It smelled like turpentine and looked like Indian ink
I held my nose, I closed my eyes.........I took a drink!

I didn't know if it was day or night;
I started kissing everything in sight.
But when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion # 9.

Song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Recorded first in 1959 by "The Clovers"

When I hear the words love potion, I always think of this song. I remember singing along to this tune when I was a kid. History abounds with strange superstitions concerning herbs and foods that are sure to enhance your love life! Whether you believe in the power of aphrodisiacs or not there is no disputing the fact that a healthy libido has been of the utmost importance to man since the beginning of time.
In the past when a balanced diet may have been hard to come by, the nutritional boost to the body after consuming certain reputed aphrodisiacs may indeed have stimulated a person’s sexual vigor. One well known aphrodisiac was said to be a favorite of Casanova's. Supposedly he ate 50 raw oysters each morning in the bath with his favorite lady love of the moment. We now know that these lust producing mollusks are a rich source of zinc, a mineral required for the production of testosterone. In the process of studying herbs I found that the "Doctrine of Signatures" was also used in the treatment of sexual dysfunction through the consumption of foods. In other words, foods or herbs shaped like certain human body parts were thought to enhance a person’s bedroom ability! Watch out if you find yourself eating asparagus, oysters, chili peppers, peaches, ginseng roots, carrots, apricots, figs, bananas or okra!
Ancient herbalists prescribed the use of many herbs as a way to "provoketh bodily lust." Some of their favorites were clary sage, lady's bedstraw, chervil, flax seed, anise seed, nettle, chamomile, mint, watercress, oregano, coriander seed, parsley, basil, plantain, myrtle, patchouli, ylang ylang and dill.
The reputed efficacy of "alleged" aphrodisiacs has always fascinated me, so over the years I have collected a number of strange and unusual concoctions. Following are many examples of medieval lore, gypsy beliefs, love potions, love philters and even a few old wives tales that are believed to be advantageous in the art of seduction. Of course I'm excluding the ever popular rhinoceros horn and Spanish fly!!!!

*Cleopatra was believed to have dissolved pearls in vinegar as a drink
to enhance her seductive powers.
*Add dill seed to any drink and you've concocted a powerful aphrodisiac.
*Sprinkle lovage in your bathwater, after soaking in the tub for a while you will be irresistible.
*To insure faithfulness, steep cumin seed in wine.
*If you kiss anyone with a bit of valerian in your mouth you will definitely win the one you love.
*A pinch of coriander in a glass of hot mulled cider or hot mulled wine will increase passions.
*The next time you write your loved one a letter, slip a bay leaf into the envelope and their love for you will double.
*An old gypsy belief instructs a woman to sprinkle dried lavender or passion flower into a man’s hatband so he will always think of her.
*Sprinkling lavender under your loved ones bed means that you will be sharing it soon.
*Keep dried vervain flowers under your pillow to bring luck and love.
*Rosemary is a symbol of fidelity, friendship and remembrance.
*If you chew on caraway seed’s while you think of the one you love, they will become yours.
*If a man desires to be irresistible, he should approach his intended with a bit of sage under his tongue.
*Sprinkle lovage over your loved one's food ten minutes before it is finished cooking and it will increase his love for you and encourage his faithfulness.
*Your hearts desire will always be yours if you secretly sprinkle chicory root into his drink.
*Take a warm bath with a cup of rose petals and a teaspoon of dill seeds to attract a lover.
*Offer the one you yearn for a sprig of basil, if they accept it they are yours forever.
*If you worry about a loved one straying, tie 3 laurel leaves to the foot of the bed, he'll be blind to everyone but you.
*To arouse passion keep a sachet of lovage, orris root, lavender and southernwood in your pocket.
*Sprinkle cinnamon on any food to produce amorous thoughts. *If you chew on caraway seeds while you think of the one you love, they will become yours.
* A man who wears amethyst will find women attracted to him.
* Egyptians banned celibate priests from consuming onions because of their libido enhancing powers.
*Grated lemon peel steeped in wine is supposed to be a powerful sexual stimulant. But then, anything steeped in wine is going to lower your inhibitions!
* Sweet marjoram is known as a symbol of youth, beauty and happiness.
The Greeks crowned newlyweds with marjoram to wish the couple enduring happiness.
*I had a friend whose grandmother gave her a sprig of rue to place in her shoe when she was married to ensure a long, loving marriage.
* For peace and harmony in marriage, place pennyroyal and magnolia leaves under the mattress. If you include lavender and southernwood the flames of passion will never die.
*Cleopatra favored figs, Napoleon treasured truffles, and Shakespeare savored sweet potatoes as their own secret love potions.

To ignite the flames of passion you might also try horseradish, damiana, ginger, almond, saffron, cloves, jasmine, elderberry, vanilla, fennel, catnip, cayenne, fennel, clover, endive, thyme, sardines, onions, pine nuts, rose petals, ginkgo nuts, strawberries, truffles, nutmeg, coffee and lets not forget chocolate. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine a substance that courses through the veins of people in love. Although a large part of orally ingested phenylethylamine is metabolized before it reaches the central nervous system, the remaining components will affect people who are sensitive to it. If you are one of the lucky ones (like me) who reaches for a Milky Way bar when you feel the need to alter your mood, chances are some of your bodily functions like temperature and blood pressure will also be affected.
Could the sweet sensation of luscious chocolate melting in your mouth be enough to arouse your carnal desires? The Aztec ruler Montezuma certainly thought so; he allegedly drank several cups of xocoatl (a chocolate drink) before visiting his harem, believing it would increase his sexual stamina. The ancient Aztecs also believed chocolate would make women less inhibited. No wonder chocolates are so popular on Valentines Day! Recent studies have shown that
chocolate affects the brains of men very differently than the effects that it seems to have on women. Certain areas of brain activity decrease when men eat chocolate, whereas the opposite is true in the brain region related to motor skills in women.
We all know how a diet rich in vitamins and minerals will keep the human body running smoothly, this fact alone may be enough to light a fire in the romance department. Pleasing scents, stimulating textures and savory flavors can lead to a sense of pleasure that in turn might just procure for us an evening of sensual delights. Whether these love potions work because of their nutritional values or only because in our minds we "believe", really doesn't matter. As long as you know they are safe with knowledgeable use, what’s the harm? So go ahead, sprinkle a little lovage in the bath when you need to feel
lovable or try a damiana cordial if you wish to induce an erotic dream.
The end result couldn't be anything worse than a "randy reputation" ....could it?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Making Potpourri

From the Mar/Apr '08 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine
Making Potpourri
The term potpourri has come to mean the mixture of dried flowers and herbs, plus spices and other fragrant ingredients, which are kept in open bowls or perforated containers to gently perfume a room. Ancient Egyptian kings who had enormous quantities of fresh roses placed in crocks and buried for later use were probably the first people to experiment in trying to preserve the scent of summer flowers. The term potpourri is translated from the French term meaning “rotten pot” which describes the earliest way of preparing potpourri by the moist method, also known as a “sweet jar”. In truth, the ingredients literally do rot. Today, the most common method of preparing potpourri is by the dry method. By the 18th century, many different recipes for potpourri had developed and most country ladies had their own special formula, which they handed down from generation to generation.
The dry method of potpourri is prepared from dried materials, the bulk of which is traditionally rose petals. This method is the easies to make and the final result is much prettier than the moist type since all the petals and leaves remain separate and intact. The natural scents of the flowers, however, are not so well preserved, as with the moist method, so essential oils must be added for extra fragrance.
If using your own flowers, they should be collected in the morning before the sun is high, but should be rid of all traces of early dew, and each blossom should be just opened, at the peak of its bloom. Flowers should be cut on a dry day, after a few days of clear weather. Flowers are best dried away from strong light in a well-ventilated place where air can circulate around them. If using only the petals from the flowers, they must be stirred or turned every few days. Your goal is to have petals that are crisp and dry.
To your flowers and petals you will need to add a fixative that is usually orris root, calamus root or gun benzoin. Fixatives are materials that activate, and preserve the fragrance of potpourri. It also retards the evaporation of the volatile oils in the herbs and flowers, releasing them slowly over a longer period of time thus sustaining the blend quality. Some fixatives have little or no scent of their own, they only absorb and set the scent of the blend. Fixatives that are scented add their own distinctive fragrance addition to your blend. The second step is to add the spices you have chosen, and any other dry ingredients such as citrus peel, all should be absolutely dry. Mix this all together gently and then separate into batches and experiment with adding your essential oils one drop at a time until you are satisfied with the scent. Then place each batch in a separate container and close tightly. Leave enough room in the container so you can gently turn it to keep the elements well mixed. The aging process will take about six weeks to be perfect, but the potpourri can be used after three weeks. After a week or so, you can open the containers and evaluate the fragrances. During this time, you can add a few more drops of essential oils or more spice if you desire.
Now you must select a container to display your potpourri. Remember that your potpourri has considerable beauty, so you want it to be visible, and also that the fragrance needs to escape into the air to perfume your room. After time if your potpourri starts to lose its fragrance, return it to a container that can be covered and refresh it with the addition of some essential oils.
Here is a simple recipe for a rose and lavender potpourri:
4 oz rose petals
2 oz lavender
1 oz lemon verbena leaves
½ oz marjoram
½ oz rosemary
4 tsp orange peel
2 tbsp allspice berries
1 tbsp cloves, crushed
4 tbsp orris root
5 drops rose essential oil
3 drops lavender essential oil
In making moist potpourri you don’t have to be as careful in handling your materials as with the dry method. Some moist potpourris are said to retain their perfumes for an extended period of time. As far as containers, you can used any container with a cover as long as it is not transparent. Rose petals form the base of all moist potpourris, which are made by curing the petals and flowers with salt. Then dried herbs, spices and fixatives are added to the mixture and left to mature.
To make moist potpourris, pick the flowers as you would for the dry method. Then dry for only a few days until the flowers have a leathery texture, not crisp, just limp with their bulk reduced by about one-third. For a mixing vessel, you will need a non-transparent straight-sided container with a lid (a crock would work well), as the mixture needs to be stirred as it matures. The moist mixture needs to mature for at least two weeks.
Using one cup of salt (non-iodized) to every three cups of petals, arrange in lawyers, petals first, in your container. Weight this down laying a plate with something heavy on it and leave for two to six weeks. The mixture in the crock should dry out and cake, but it starts to bubble or ferment, stir it but do not add any more flowers. Excess moisture should be poured off. When all the petals have formed a dry cake, empty them onto a large clean surface and break them up. Add 6 tablespoons of dried herbs for every gallon of caked petals, plus no more than 10 ounces of mixed spices, fixatives and citrus peels, and store in a non-transparent container.
For a sweet potpourri add to one gallon of your finished petals:
2 tbsp sweet marjoram
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp bergamot
1 tbsp crumbled bay leaves
1 tbsp lemon balm leaves crushed
the peel of one orange
1 ½ oz orris root
1 oz gum benzoin
1 oz ground cloves
½ oz mace
½ oz all spice
½ oz sandalwood powder
The only thing that may seem difficult the first time you make any of these potpourris will be to learn to gauge what you are smelling and to take into account the initial rawness of your product. When the flowers first begin to dry they have a wonderful scent; halfway through they may smell as if they should be thrown away. Only after they are mixed, fixed and matured does the original floral odor return. When the raw odor is present there is a tendency to over perfume with oils, but have faith; hidden away is the perfume of your summer garden waiting to be enjoyed.
By Pat Myers

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Walking in a Winterless Wonderland

It is starting to seem like we won't have a real winter here this year. Sure, sure, there are always variations in weather, but with the release of the USDA zone map the other day that moved the zones ever higher, I can't help but worry about this. On the other hand, my grandmother's favorite refrain of "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all shall die" is well instilled in my heart. Hearing that often enough as a nipperkin will do that to you - once you figure out it isn't meant literally.
So the windows have been open for the past few days, I've been sitting on the deck wiggling my toes in the breeze, and yesterday my sister and I went down into the woods to see what is going on out there. Generally speaking, I was relieved to see that there isn't too much sprouting or budding there. The fish in the pond were happy to gather together near the surface and color the water gold and orange with the shimmery hides.
The sycamore tree still has some seed balls on the branches, and always looks so majestic against the sky.
Wandering along, we found a sprig of dried wild grapes that somehow escaped the birds, deer, foxes, racoons, and possums in the woods.
There are still a lot of whole nuts on the ground, and the shells left behind are from hickory on the one end of the woods,
and mostly black walnut on the other end.
A hyacinth is starting to venture through the soil next to some chickweed.
Moss is prolific and grows over this fallen tree, turning it a beautiful green. There is so much habitat on the forest floor from downed timber.
I need to ID this leathery little fern-like plant. Every year I see it in this bronze stage, and wonder what it is.
There are bindweed and morning glory vines still hanging onto seedpods everywhere.
One lone perennial poppy is oblivious to the time of the year.
The trilliums, ramps, and even the skunk cabbage are still sleeping soundly, much to my surprise. We can't have too many more days like this without seeing some serious budding on the trees and shrubs, but if it happens this early, they *might* have time to go back to sleep and start the cycle over. A couple of years ago we had no frost after the end of March. That gives us 2 months to have a winter. The suspense is killing me.