Friday, September 27, 2013

Avoiding the Plague with a Smile

Here it is September, and already there are some nasty bugs flying furiously about.  My daughter is currently working 2 jobs while attempting to start-up her own business, so it came as no surprise last week when she was sidelined for 4 days.  It was ugly.
Another not so surprising development was waking up with the sore throat myself the other morning.  There is too much going on right now to even be down for a single day, so this was just not a possibility.  Immediately, I started taking elderberry every few hours, tea with honey and lemon, eating lots of garlic, turmeric and onions, and the usual protocol to avoid falling ill.
Along with these things, there are some very simple things that we can all do that make a huge difference.  I've had a good bit of experience avoiding illness.  For three years we had a relative living here waiting for an organ transplant.  We were given the admonishment that any virus brought into the house could kill him.  No pressure there!  I learned to view every public surface that I touched as a potential danger, using sleeves to push buttons and open doors.  Hand washing is very important.  In those three years, only one bug got through the gates, and it was kept to the individual, not spread around.  It is much more difficult inside the home, so try to leave it out there in public.  That's the best thing you can do.
But alas, it was already in the house... My friend Fran Malone reminded me to avoid saying negative things because our bodies really do hear and respond to our words and thoughts.  So saying or thinking, "Oh, I don't feel good," can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Ever notice that the people who constantly say that they get everything that comes down the pike DO pick up every germ? 
Instead, stand or sit up straight and say with conviction, "I feel GREAT!!!"  Do it often.  In fact, do it every morning upon rising, and you really will feel good.  Try it - you'll see.
Next, SMILE.  It will feel silly to put a big grin on while you're washing dishes alone, but do it anyhow.  Remind yourself to smile as much as you can.  From the article "9 Benefits of Smiling", this excerpt says it all:
"Smiling even makes your immune system stronger by making your body produce white blood cells to help fight illnesses. One study found that hospitalized children who were visited by story-tellers and puppeteers who made them smile and laugh had higher white blood cell counts than those children who weren’t visited."
Lots of fluid, plenty of rest (oh that's the hardest one), nourishing foods, and some good anti-viral herbs can do wonders.  Add the smiles and the encouraging words and see if you can't just keep the coming plagues at bay.
Yesterday I completed most of the more pressing commitments, and it was tempting to let my guard down - but I'm sitting here smiling as I type.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We get by with a little help from our friends

The mailbox was crammed with good stuff yesterday, and it made me think about how many friends we all have who are finding their own ways to take on the challenges of our 21st century economy.  Some of us have been at it for decades and have watched the tides rise and fall.  Personally, I love having the ability to duck the time clock, and really enjoy giving encouragement to others.
On that note, I'd like to share some of these people who are putting themselves out there and taking their shot.
First up is a local musician, Victor Jenks.  Give a listen while you read :-)  He's been honing his skills for many years, but this contest (he's currently in about 25th place out of over 3000) will give him the chance to do some great stuff.  We used to work together, and I would love to see him win.  In his song "Wings", the line, "I'm gonna fly right by ya" has been in my head for a few days, and it's not a bad thing!
Our friend Michele Brown at Possum Creek Herb Farm came out with her first solo book (she is a contributor in An Elder Gathering) and I grabbed a handful to take along to the Roots & Wings Fall Fest next month.

It's beautiful and filled with great information that will give gardeners - new and "seasoned" ideas for growing and using 12 useful plants.
Our friend Maeve has made lovely candles and offered counseling for years, but the recent budget cuts for education have brought this talent of hers into the forefront.
Please take a look at some of her work.
Leann Blackey has been a soap artist for many years.  Her creations are simply stunning.  Being a soapmaker myself, I know that that it will be a little hard to use each of these works of art for the first time, but also know that she can make more!

The soap is luxurious and beautifully scented, and I've heard her lotions are out of this world.  Her shop:  WildSense aromatics
Lastly, there's this talented young lady who can help small businesses with their content - blogs, product descriptions, website content, and social media (she's currently helping me with Pinterest).
Full disclosure - she's my very own daughter.  Recently graduated with a degree in professional writing, let her help you navigate all the demands of social media for a very reasonable fee.  Visit Left-Handed Content for details.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Elderberry Disaster of 2013

Letting out a long sad sigh here.
Last year the timing of the weather here destroyed our elderberry crop.  I should have paid attention then, and watered it when it was dry.  The dry spell hit just when the berries were forming, and the stems leading to the umbels dried up, leaving small bundles of tiny brown dried up balls.
Elderberries have always been a carefree crop here.  Aside from the fact that the stinkbugs have found the umbels to be a hospitable resting place and probably ruin a few berries along the way, nothing has bothered them.  Until this year.
This year it seemed that the bushes were just knocking themselves out to make up for last year.  They were covered with layers of frothy umbels. 

At a certain point the branches of tiny green berries became so heavy that we did some fancy weaving inside the branches to hold them up off the ground.

Shortly after that, I started to notice that when I touched the berries, swarms of tiny bugs emerged and berries, ripe and unripe, fell to the ground.
The ground under the bushes looks like this.  Everywhere under the bushes.

About that time, my friend Barb Will wrote to ask if I knew what would be causing tiny white worms in their berries.  I'd never heard of that. Since then, I've heard from people in various parts of the country who seem to be having the same problem - as am I.
The umbels have not ripened uniformly.  Some berries around the outer edges ripen, but burst when picked - if they don't drop as soon as you touch them.  The area around the bushes smells strongly of fermenting fruit.  Early on I got enough to freeze a couple of quarts and make a gallon of mead.  Then I gave up and ordered some dried berries.
Note all the colors - green, pink, brown.  All from the same umbel.  The ripe ones mostly fell off.

So today I posted a picture of some berries on The Essential Herbal's facebook page.  We commiserated, and then Denise C brought up the spotted wing drosophila.
A quick search brought up a page from Cornell University.
"The spotted wing drosophila is a vinegar or fruit fly of East Asian origin. It has been in Hawaii since the 1980s, but was first discovered in California in 2008, and Florida, Utah, the Carolinas, and Michigan in 2010. It has many hosts, but is most often attracted to grapes, cherries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and other soft-flesh fruits."
Now we really have a problem!

I opened several berries while outside earlier, but didn't find any worms. I have seen them, though. The page talks about natural management.  Vinegar traps.  I think that cutting and burning affected umbels *might* help.  Keeping a close eye on the plants has become a necessity.
No longer an easy, carefree crop, but such an important useful plant.  Next year we'll have to try some experiments.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Spicebush berry time!


May/June '12 issue - The Essential Herbal Magazine

Tina Sams
Today the berries cover the branches of the small trees in the woods (early Sept),
It was a pleasant surprise to find that the Herb Society of America started a Notable Native Herb program and will feature a native each year.  Even more intriguing, they chose Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), a shrub that is the main undergrowth in our woods here on the farm.  Much like the Int'l Herb Association's Herb of the Year (Rose for 2012), I believe this native program will give us the opportunity to really focus on an herb that we might not typically give a lot of consideration. When Horseradish was featured, I learned a lot more than I expected!  And so it will be with Spicebush.

In the woods, it is some of the first color in spring as the small bright yellow flowers pop out along the stems.  For those of us in its range (varieties grow all of the eastern US, from eastern Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas eastward to the Atlantic states as far north as Maine and into Ontario), it is pretty much THE look of spring in the woods.  Driving through the countryside today, I paid attention to how it is the only thing among the bare trees, and the blossoms twinkle and glow.

Spicebush is a member of the Laurel Family (Lauraceae). Both male and female plants are required for fruiting, and it most often reproduces asexually through root sprouting.  Leaves are alternate, simple, and elliptical. They are pinnately veined and generally about 3-5 inches long with the larger leaves on the tips and smaller leaves down the stems.  The twigs and leaves, as well as the fruit, are fragrant with strong spiciness. It is the easiest way to identify this plant, by rubbing the leaves or snapping off a twig and smelling it. Most of ours are 6-8 feet tall because they get nearly full shade when the canapy fills out, but they do get to 15 feet or so with sunlight, and have a nice shape. The fruits are green, ripening to red, with a single large seed.  While the twigs can be harvested year round (and dried) for teas, etc., the leaves do not dry well and should be used when fresh.  The berries can be dried or frozen for later use.

As the summer winds down and autumn approaches, Spicebush again pleases us with bright yellow leaves decorated with the shiny red berries, although we have to race the birds for them.

There were many Native American and Early American medicinal uses for Spicebush.  Concentrated decoction of the twigs and bark can induce perspiration, so it was useful in fevers.  The berry tea was was used for respiratory issues.  Infusions of all three parts were considered useful for skin issues and irritations.

The flavor of the berry is a bit like allspice with a touch of nutmeg.  So far, I've been removing the seed and drying, then grinding the outer red part for use (as we do for the large rose hips here).  It appears that most people dry and grind the whole berry, so I might try that this year since it would be a lot less labor intensive.

A few ways to use Spicebush in the kitchen: 

Persimmon Cake
I put this recipe together after searching for a cookie recipe for some found persimmon, finally deciding a cake would be easier, given what was in the kitchen.  You might want to toss in a ripe banana or some chopped apple.  It is very versatile.  Moist, dense, and spicy... yum!  
1/2 C shortening
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 C persimmon pulp
1 C all purpose flour
2 eggs
2 t baking powder
2 t spicebush berry (ground)
2 t finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t crushed cardamom seeds
1/2 C chopped walnuts and/or raisuns (optional)

Grease an 8" x 8" baking dish. Set oven for 350.
Cream shortening in a mixing bowl with the sugars, beating well. Add eggs and persimmon, and mix well. Add dry ingredients slowly, and the spices, and mix until well blended (I used a mixer)
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until top is firm to the touch. Cake will be a medium brown.

Spicebush Tea
Twigs:  I cut the twigs into 1 or 2" pieces and use 2 cup of twigs to 4 cups of water. 
Leaves (fresh): About the same quantities as above.
Berries: 1 cup berries in 4 cups of water.
Simmer uncovered for 20 - 25 minutes.
Sweeten with honey or a sprinkle of stevia.
Best enjoyed hot, although the leaf tea is also pleasant iced.

Quinoa Salad
Cook quinoa according to package directions to make 4 cups.
2 T olive oil
Juice of one lemon and zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 C finely chopped onion OR sliced spring onion
1/4 C coarsely chopped dried sour cherries or cranberries
1/4 C slivered almonds
1 T chopped parsley
2 t ground spiceberry

Blend well and serve hot or cold (I prefer it hot). This will keep in the fridge for several days and makes a nutritious snack or side dish.

And just because my life is one long battle with groundhogs, I found the following recipe on-line and although I will probably never use it, reading it brings a vicious smile to my lips every time I read it.
Recipe for Groundhog Cooked with Spicebush
“This is a recipe that my Mother-in-law taught me how to cook ground hog.
Dress and cut it up. Put in pot, then bring to boil.* Break up spicewood branches, and put in pot with meat. Boil until the meat is tender. Remove; then salt and pepper; then roll in flour; put in 1/2 cup shortening, preferably bacon grease. Then put in oven and bake until it is brown.  Mrs. Ennis Ownby”
 Mountain Makin’s in the Smokies, published by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, 1957.

Take advantage of this year of learning about Spicebush and try using it if it is in your area.