Sunday, October 28, 2012

Here Comes Sandy!

Here at The Essential Herbal, we've battened down the hatches to the best of our abilities and are prepared for this mega-storm barreling up the coast towards us.
I wanted to let our friends and customers know that we are pretty much expecting to lose power for some period of time within the next 24 to 36 hours, and will be unable to access the internet.  During that time, our website will accept orders, and you'll even get a confirmation email, but we will not see the order until the power returns.  As soon as things are back up and we're ready to ship, you will get another email from me to let you know.  On the other hand, everything may be just fine - you never know.  We're preparing for whatever may come.
So - shop at will, but know that it may be some time until it ships. 
Thanks for your patience, and stay safe and warm everyone.  We hope for the very best for all of our friends along the East Coast.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Very Own Horseradish - first harvest

Several years ago a friend sent me horseradish roots.  I managed to kill them, although many say this is neigh on impossible.  Then in 2011 when horseradish was the herb of the year, it seemed fitting to plant some (again) and into the ground it went. 
This year, I was making some of that wild fire vinegar that goes by many names - Fire cider, Cyclone cider, Master Tonic - whatever.  It's filled with garlic, onions, some hot peppers, horseradish, and I also add about 1/4 - 1/5 raw honey.  This year, everything that went into the apple cider vinegar was homegrown or a gift from someone who grew it except a little turmeric.  A little bit of this stuff pretty much scares the viruses right out of you.  I really like that.

So anyhow... back to the horseradish.
Wait.  First I have to show you this cool shovel.  If you've ever found yourself hopping up onto the shovel to get it into the ground, and then hopping up again as if you're swinging from a playground pole and not making much headway to boot - this is a great shovel (made for women) that comes in 3 different lengths.  It is AWESOME and comes from Green Heron Tools - a small, women-owned business here in my home state of PA.
Okay, so out I go to dig up just a little bit of the root.  Pulled up two of the four crowns in no time and returned most of the roots to the ground because I didn't really need or want much right now.

I have to tell you that when asking the circle of herbies how to process horseradish, my friend Lou said that she dons (did she say gas mask?) eye protection and gloves, and takes the whole kit and kaboodle outside.  She's a hard working lady, so I really should have listened.  Really.  But no.  It's only a little, right?  Well grinding it in the kitchen made that area of the house a biohazard for about an hour while things settled down.  Smells good, but wickedly strong.  The oils in the fumes burn the eyes.  Outside next time!

Here's what's left after the rest went into the vinegar.  We're set for the year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cover Story, Essential Herbal Nov/Dec '12

For many years we did most of the covers in-house because not using color, we didn't feel it was a decent or fitting representation of the work of others.  With the addition of color covers a few years ago, the possibilities flew wide open and we've had many beautiful covers of original artwork.

This one is very special though.  This one includes the hands of several readers (and me) who have come to know the artist over the years, through the magazine and the email list.  I posted the cover yesterday.  Today I will share what Carey wrote about the inspiration for her work.  Reading it the first time brought me to tears as I realized that the vision, work, and dreams of the past decade were exactly what she painted.

About the Cover...

The idea for this drawing came to me one night when I was musing over possible images to paint for the TEH cover. The words, home-hearth-warm-love-nourishment-friends-sisters-healing-community, kept swirling around in my vision as I moved objects around on my table, attempting in vain to create a still life that I could sketch.

Then, all of sudden I saw us, all of us readers, gathered around a table, it was cold outside and we were all warmed by a fireplace. There was laughter that would suddenly erupt, and then silence as we listened to the wind howl beyond the walls and the fireplace snap behind us. I could smell the fireplace, and honeyed beeswax, and herbs, and coffee, of course the coffee. This was what I need to paint!

So, I asked a few of the terrific women with whom I've gotten to know because of this magazine, if they would be game for taking a picture of their hands around their favorite mug, at a table, and then send it to me. I was thrilled that they agreed.

So here they are, with a few liberties taken on the part of the artist, starting on the left, in the back row, going clockwise around the table: Betsy Stevens and mug, Tina Sams and mug, Maryanne Schwartz and mug, Rosanne Tartaro and mug, and Marci Tsohonis and mug that was made by her granddaughter. With the exception of Tina and Maryanne, who live right next door to each other, we are all sprinkled around the country. I love them all and many times wish we could all just gather around a table like this on a regular basis. I feel this way about the entire magazine, and especially the yahoo list, on which I've been especially quiet these last many months, but I look forward to the posts.

This magazine truly tells the story of what herbalism, to me, is about. It's about caring for others, adding to joy, shoring up health, or easing pain, and having the means to do so. It's about sharing the wisdom, comparing notes, humor, supporting each other, and weaving the beauty of these amazing plants into every nook and cranny of our lives.

May your winter days be full of love and warmth and loveliness and herbs.

Carey Jung (

In future days, I will share more about some of the articles inside and the advertisers who make it possible.  Have a good one!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nov/Dec '12 issue - The Essential Herbal

Our latest issue has hit the mail, and will be reaching subscribers by the end of the month.  As usual, it is filled with an amazing array of seasonal herbal goodness.  We love each of the articles, as well as the fact that our readers are oftentimes writing for their fellow readers!  It is this generous sharing that makes Essential Herbal what it is.  This issue concludes 11 years of building this grassroots community of herbies, and we're thrilled to be headed into #12.
This issue's cover was painted by Carey Jung, and she wrote a beautiful column about how and why she chose this image.  We'll post that here tomorrow, so stop back :-)

This issue's cover was painted by Carey Jung, and she wrote a beautiful column about how and why she chose this image.  We'll post that here tomorrow, so stop back :-)

Table of Contents

Field Notes
It would seem that the more things change, the more things stay the same. 
About the Cover, Carey Jung
Carey tells how she came up with the concept for the cover and how it expresses her feelings about the magazine, the community that surrounds and supports it, and the people she's met through it.

Civil War: Conditions, Treatments & Botanicals, Jackie Johnson   
We tend not to think about the conditions of war, especially earlier wars.  Jackie gets into the nitty-gritty of germs, fevers, herbs that were used, and all of the things soldiers faced that were as bad as the enemy's  weapon.

Herb/Spice Bread Dough Wreath, Rita Richardson   
A fun decorative project to do alone or with kids.

Handmade Holidays, Kristin Henningsen   
Make some quick, easy, inexpensive holiday gifts with these recipes and instructions.

Herbal Ice Pops, Michael Blackmore
Michael did lots of experimentation during the summer, and came up with several outstanding ice pop recipes that will help keep the family healthy and happy.  You'll be coming up with your own pops in no time. The possibilities are endless.

Ginger Sore Throat Syrup, Marci Tsohonis
There are so many good reasons to have a good ginger syrup handy over the winter (well... all the time)!
Winter Remedies with Summer Herbs, Suzan T Scholl
Now that you've grown and gathered them, what to do?  What are they for? Ideas for the medicine cabinet abound.
Seasoning for the Season, Marcy Lautenan-Raleigh
Mmmm mmm!  Corn relish, purple basil jelly, lime mint slaw, and many other delectable delicacies.
Herbs for the Eating Season, Sandy Michelsen
Here it comes.  The Eating Season is upon us, and Sandy shares herbal remedies to offer relief.
Louisiana Lagniappe, Spiced Citrus & Cranberry Punch, Sarah Liberta   
A holiday beverage fit for entertaining yet still full of vibrant, healthy fruits and spices.

Oh Christmas Tree!, Marci Tsohonis
Memories of trees past have convinced Marci that only a real tree will do (so they grow their own) and that  scent inspires some wonderful pine/fir concoctions to soothe winter illnesses.
Rosemary … My Remembrance, Janice Kline   
For Janice, this dear herb of remembrance was more healing than she might have believed possible.

Yule Magic, Heddy Johannesen
Nature inspires these creations - incense, tree decorations, sachets, and a bath salt blend.
From the Vault, Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Is there any way we can get enough pumpkin at this time of year?
SouthRidge Treasures, Holiday Breads, Mary Ellen Wilcox   
Mary Ellen shares a lovely array of quickbreads that can be made ahead and frozen for gift-giving or to have  on hand through the winter.  Pumpkin, nutmeg, cardamom, dill, sour cream and cranberries are ingredients in  the various loaves.

Mama Elizabeth’s Baklava, Zan Asha   
Zan shares her mother's recipe for baklava!

From the Vault, Dilly Popovers   
These were deemed "like campaign speeches, full of hot air, but easier to stomach."

From the Vault, Honey Butter
One last quick, easy, yet luscious item to make for gifts or keeping to yourself.   

Now.  Aren't there a lot of things that have you wanting to go play in the herb closet just seeing the titles?  We think so too.  Wonderful culinary, medicinal, and decorative uses of herbs, enough to keep you busy right through til 2013!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Day in the Life

If you are on Facebook, there's little doubt that you've seen the various interpretations of the meme that shows 6 different pictures with captions like:  what my friends think I do, what my customers think I do, what the neighbors think I do, etc., etc. and I know that I've mentioned how when we had our shop, we would hear so often, "I want to do this when I retire." 
Yesterday I kept my camera handy and took shots throughout the day (or my sister took them - depending on who had the least greasy hands at the time).  We have a lot of fun working together.  Our laughter very often makes people think we're just very lucky slackers who don't do much except put out a magazine (The Essential Herbal) and fabulous soap (Lancaster County Soapworks, Etc.) - both of which magically appear when we need them.  Most of the time we who work making products from natural ingredients - be they herbs, soap, bath and body products, whatever - post beautifully composed shots that make our lives look romantic and whimsical.  Sometimes lighting, costuming and props are involved.  But here it is - the reality, probably out of order ...
Before heading out, I photograph and post something on the business Facebook page to clarify an early post on the various things that we call amber.

Batches of soap we made the night before are unmolded and we set to work cutting them into bars.  Merlot is on the cutter here.

While Maryanne cuts, I stack the bars on shelves.  Those low shelves are tricky.  This is Lavender.

Completed orders are stacked on the shipping table to be packed.  A good eye will notice some cover artwork for the magazine in the background.
Orders being packed for shipping or delivery - depending on distance.

Box molds waiting to be cleaned from last night and refilled tonight.

Each bar of soap is trimmed to remove the sharp edges.

Lunch time - the mailbox at home holds a good bit of Essential Herbal mail to be handled.  I like to think I'm doing my part to keep the US Postal Service solvent.

Getting ready to melt fats for several runs (6 batches each) of soapmaking.  The 50 pound pails are tamed with a hand-truck and tools - like this pail opener.  Took us a couple of years of wrestling with these bad boys before we figured out how to work with them.  We were younger then.  Now we use the tools.

Maryanne setting up the oil melter and removing just the right amount of one of the oils to make the perfect blend.
Melted, blended oils rushing into one of the many single batch buckets we have lined up and ready to fill.
Wrapping, wrapping, wrapping. 
Mid-day and a rush order comes in.  We can squeeze it in.

Bottles lined up to be filled with "spritz" and lotions.

Hazelnut harvest break!  A little fresh air feels pretty good.

Filling the spritz bottles with base before adding the individual scents and affixing the spray tops.

Tub teas are blended and scooped into heat sealable teabags - then ironed, packed, and labeled.
There's more of course. We don't show the actual soapmaking, the dragging out of totes full of herbs to blend the tub teas, or the many other small tasks that make up many of our days. We have a beautiful life, let there be no doubt. Some days we even have bon-bons. This morning, we'll finish up the work that needs doing in the shop, and set out on deliveries - one of our favorite activities. Maybe I'll remember the camera.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Last Minute Leaf Gathering, Etc.

It started as a walk around the immediate yard and surrounding fields last evening as the sun was starting to set. 
Various seed pods, leaves, and flower petals hit the basket.

We keep a table of found seasonal pods, cones, nuts, grasses and such, which gives me a purpose on walks when the seasons change.
The seedpods from Balloon Flowers remind me baby birds waiting for a meal.

Before long, I was busy gleaning new growth on herbs that had been harvested a couple of weeks ago.
Lemon Verbena was cleanly harvested 2 weeks ago, but it wasn't done yet.

These will be used in the house over the winter rather than being blended into teas for others or distilled into hydrosols.  This final push as the light diminishes is clearly a gift for those of us out looking. 
The Passionflower vine was full of beautiful tendrils.  I gathered enough of them to attempt a small quantity of tincture made with only the tendrils, just to see how I like that.  2 ounces - just to play with.

The nettle sends out young shoots, there is a small harvest of fresh, new red clover, and the echinacea doesn't want to be forgotten, sending out a few stray blossoms.  At the same time, mushrooms are popping up and nestling in against tree trunks. 
The Turkey Tails are just starting to grow.  Soon they will be everywhere.
It is an interesting time out there, and today I will go further - into the woods to plant a couple paw paw trees that have been patiently waiting on the shady porch.
Paw paw trees ready to be planted.

Originally, the guy from Go Native (where I got them) suggested Halloween would be a perfect time to plant them on the creek bank, but I ran into him at the store the other day and he said that the weather is changing quickly and they should probably go in by mid-month.
Maryanne and I both need to harvest our comfrey.  We'll cut the best leaves and lay them out carefully on sheets covering most of the upstairs.  It takes a lot of space for a week or two, but the effort is entirely worth it.  The result is nearly emerald green dried comfrey for use in all of our herbal endeavors over the winter.
Regrowth of the harvested White Incense Sage.  We'll burn this one leaf at a time, while the previously harvested sage was grown specifically to be distilled for the hydrosol - our Liquid Smudge (on the website)

If you can, find a wild or diversely planted place to wander over the next few days.  Look at the changes and appreciate the offerings of the flora and fauna.  Here where the seasonal changes are so apparent, we don't have much more time to say goodbye for the year.
The final Lavender spikes and leaves of Rose Geranium along with a few Vitex berries (that still has lots of harvesting to come) sparkled when I tried to walk past them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

So long September, Welcome October!

Waking up this morning, my eyes flew open and my mind raced to determine what today's pressing requirements would be.  Generally speaking, I am one of those extremely fortunate people who work until tired, go to bed, and rise when the sun comes beaming through the window.
Lately though, there have been many mornings when the alarm clock has been pressed into service.  The Nov/Dec deadline for The Essential Herbal Magazine was on September 15th, and almost immediately upon that date we were also hit with a mountain of soap orders for my sister's wholesale company.  And the kid was preparing to move out of state.  And there were a couple of shows we'd signed up to do, and a few early morning trips to the train station for pick-ups and send-offs.
Don't get me wrong... we've been having a blast meeting our deadlines, pumping out soap, and delivering orders.  We love that stuff!  It's just been hectic.
Somewhere in there, Maryanne came down with some upper respiratory crud and I attempted to stay as far away from her coughing as possible.
She used a little elderberry - not enough.
Eventually she used the osha/elecampane syrup we shared on Mountain Rose Herbs' blog last week, so it's time to put another batch on for myself.  Why?  Because last night after every single one of our commitments were completed, I began to succumb to the creeping crud - but I'm going to fight it hard.  Somehow we nearly almost manage to hold it together and stay healthy until the moment comes when we can fall a little bit apart.  She was sickest during 2 days last week that were not critical. I don't know how we pull that off, but it's been that way ever since we went into business over 20 years ago.
I froze some concentrated elderberry juice this summer and last night took out a 1 cup bag to thaw.  A good glug of it last night and again this morning seems to be helping a lot, and I'll continue as long as needed.  In fact last night when my throat got that familiar warning ache, I took a chunk of the frozen juice and sucked on it while the rest thawed.  Now I think that next year I will find a smallish ice cube tray and make them up just to be able to do that regularly.

By the way, we have decided to cancel our fall classes, so I'll be placing calls later this afternoon.  There hasn't been enough interest for us to give up the next 6 weeks of weekends, so we're taking them back :-)
Who knows - there's an herb conference this coming weekend, the AHG conference in the end of the month, and all sorts of local agricultural faires and seasonal celebrations to attend if we so desire.  Wow - imagine!  Maybe we'll just have fun!

I sure don't mind waving goodbye to the last month, and it looks like October will be a great time.