Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Black Friday in Tinytown

Anyone with a television, a radio, or an internet connection has realized by now that Black Friday (or is that Black Thufriday?) is now the biggest day of over-consumption in all the world, nay Universe!  It is practically our patriotic duty to get up from the dinner table, grab our credit cards, and head out to the mall, where we can battle our way to heroic, epic shopping extravaganzas.  Retail giants across the land offer cherished electronics and gift items at bargain basement prices, hoping that we'll stray from our battle plan and accidentally buy something for full price.  It's the kind of occasion that defines Americans.  Not in a good way, but it does define us.

Years ago, I can still remember the excitement my sister and I felt going into our first Black Friday in our little herb shop along Main Street, a street that led directly to the mall in the neighboring town.  All day we watched the traffic streaming by.  Cars flying past with their trunks tied around packages, while the cabins were filled to the brim with bags and cramped people.  That was the day that we found out that Black Friday is for large businesses.  A few exhausted stragglers stumbled in just before we closed and made our day worthwhile, but that was just a freak occurrence.

ghost town

Here's the problem... micro-businesses, of which there are thousands and thousands, can't provide the kind of discounts and come-ons that the big boys do.  We struggle with price increases from our suppliers, and usually wind up eating them for years before we decide we must pass them along to our customers.  We juggle and scrimp, trying to keep our prices reasonable every single day of the year.  There is absolutely nothing that we can do to compete.  We give the customers the best price we've got all year long.  Doesn't it make you wonder how much those big guys with the big discounts are making the other 364 (now 363) days of the year when these things aren't on sale?  It does me!

Now with just an on-line business, I used to try to come up with something to garner a little attention on the big day.  The shipping policy that was implemented at that time ($7 maximum shipping, or free shipping on US orders over $100) worked pretty well - so I've kept it as an everyday thing since then.  That's how it works for us tiny businesses.  We just do our best every day.

Then there's Small Business Saturday and Cyber-Monday.  I'm sure they're helpful for some people, but nobody *I* know in business.

So here's the thing... when you purchase from the shops of tiny businesses like mine, you know a few things.  You know you're getting the best deal we can give you.  You know that the price isn't going to change next week, making you feel cheated.  More than anything, you know that you've supported the work of someone who is putting their heart and soul into their work.

Stop by sometime - we'll be here every day, all year :-)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Crazy Kelp Berries

I talked about the general malaise a little while ago, and since then have talked to more and more people all across the country who know exactly what I'm talking about.  At this time of year we are quite desperate to overcome this issue.  My sister and I each have our own businesses that bloom in the last few months of the year.  Between The Essential Herbal deadlines, Lancaster County Soapworks, regular everyday business, and some happy surprise projects, we're pushing it.  The tree farm gets busy, and we have to work around that schedule to get everything done - so it gets a little stressful in the best of times.

In a conversation last week, someone mentioned iodine for thyroid support, and it was as if I was in a V-8 commercial being bonked on the head.  Being of a certain age when women's thyroids can get wonky, and having mostly given up table salt through attrition, I decided the iodine rich powdered kelp that I got on a whim from Mountain Rose a couple months ago would be a great idea.  That evening, I mixed a teaspoon of kelp with a glass of water.  The taste was okay to me, but it took about an hour to clear the powdered kelp from my throat.  However, the next day it was clear to me that there was a slight shift.  I'd been taking B and D vitamins, and the kelp gave me the little shove over the hill.

This is where it gets a little crazy...
The drink was rough (smoothies would be great, but I do nothing regularly).  How to take a reasonable quantity daily without making everything taste vaguely like seafood?  Food as medicine is my favorite method, but one must be realistic and honest about it.  I knew I wouldn't do that.  So I decided to try making a thick paste with honey, and rolling it into balls. 

I used a couple of tablespoons of honey with 1/2 cup of kelp.  That wasn't quite dense enough, so I added perhaps a tablespoon each of dulse and bladderwrack that were purchased along with the kelp.  The balls are about the size of blueberries, and rolled in 10X sugar so they don't stick together, and rest on a bed of 10X and honey/ginger crystals. 

They aren't delicious, but they're not terrible either.  They're small enough to swallow whole, but I usually give them a chew or two before washing them down with water.  It solved a problem.  Capsules would work too - but that would be too easy - lol.

Next time, I'll probably try it with tahini and then roll them in sesame seeds.  Although the flavor of the seaweeds isn't as strange with "sweet" as one would think, it just might be good with sesame.  Coconut oil might be a good solution too, and kept in the fridge they will stay very firm. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wholesome Holiday Treats ('08 excerpt)

Wholesome Holiday Treats
Nov/Dec '08 Essential Herbal Magazine
Sue-Ryn Burns hillwoman.com

My holiday gift list is going to be a lot more personalized this year. Everyone will probably get some of the herbal jellies I’ve become obsessed with making and something crocheted (another obsession). My husband is already planning to dig up and process major amounts of our killer Horse Radish to share. I will make sure everyone gets some Thyme herb with instructions for making some fast acting antispasmodic tea, and probably some Elecampane Root too, in case respiratory flu makes the rounds. And most likely we’ll be baking our traditional favorites, including European Yule Bread.
I’ll probably mix up some Yogi Tea for friends to try as well. Years ago a friend shared her recipe with me. We found it really warming and comforting on long wintry nights. With heating costs expected to be unpredictable, warming teas may be really helpful this winter. For a really decadent late evening treat, add some “half’n’half” and home made Kahlua or other liqueur. I have also substituted Coconut milk for regular dairy and found it quite pleasing.

European Yule Bread

1 Cup warm water
1 egg slightly beaten
1 ½ Tbsp butter or oil
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
3 cups bread machine flour
2 Tbsp powdered milk
1 tsp dry yeast
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup candied fruit
½ tsp ground fennel seed
½ tsp ground cardamom seed
½ tsp ground coriander seed
¼ cup chopped unsalted nuts pecans, walnuts, or almonds are good

Mix flour, spices, sugar, salt, powdered milk, and dried fruits in a 2 qt mixing bowl.
Cut in butter with a fork or pastry blending tool.
Add warm water to bread machine bucket. If using oil, beat it gently in with the egg and add to warm water.
Scoop in mixed dry ingredients.
Bake on medium setting.
Let the bread machine make the dough, shape it into three smaller loaves and place them into greased pans. Allow them to rise, covered, in a warm place for about an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.
You can also make your dough in the traditional manner by hand in a large bowl. I usually add the dried fruit when I knead the dough if I do it by hand. Let it rise once, knead it, and let it rise again shaped into the form of your choice on a large flat sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 ½ hours or until golden brown and hollow sounding.

Cool on racks, then wrap in foil until you a ready to serve it or give it away. It makes morning toast seem like cake for breakfast!

Linda’s Yogi Tea

Equal parts by volume; Whole Cardamom Pods ( half part if you are using Decorticated Whole Seeds), Cloves, Peppercorns ( in a pinch you can substitute Allspice Berries), Ginger Root pieces, Coriander Seeds, and Cinnamon chips or Cassia Buds (if you can find them). Add or subtract spices you’re not fond of.

Simmer a 1/2 cup of the mixed spices in 6 cups of water gently in a non-reactive pot for thirty minutes, or to desired strength. Strain and add 2 cups of milk. Rewarm gently, sweeten with honey, and serve.

Kahlua (I’m not sure if that is correct) 3 Cups Water 3 Cups Granulated Sugar 10 Teaspoons Instant Coffee 4 Teaspoons Vanilla 1 Quart Vodka (Cheapest you can get) Bring water, sugar and coffee to boil. Simmer 1 hour. Cool to room temperatur...

Read More at www.vicariouslyvintage.com/2010/06/16/kahlua/
Kahlua (I’m not sure if that is correct) 3 Cups Water 3 Cups Granulated Sugar 10 Teaspoons Instant Coffee 4 Teaspoons Vanilla 1 Quart Vodka (Cheapest you can get) Bring water, sugar and coffee to boil. Simmer 1 hour. Cool to room temperatur...

Read More at www.vicariouslyvintage.com/2010/06/16/kahlua/
Kahlua (I’m not sure if that is correct) 3 Cups Water 3 Cups Granulated Sugar 10 Teaspoons Instant Coffee 4 Teaspoons Vanilla 1 Quart Vodka (Cheapest you can get) Bring water, sugar and coffee to boil. Simmer 1 hour. Cool to room temperatur...

Read More at www.vicariouslyvintage.com/2010/06/16/kahlua/

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


We usually make tinctures with single herbs for ease of use and blending later.  The reasoning behind that is so that you have the single ingredients to blend into any kind of formula or to use them alone, depending on the situation.  Sometimes though, there's really no reason that you can't make a blend from the get-go.

One of my favorite experiments was over a decade ago, using an ounce of a relaxing tea blend to make a tincture for a friend who had trouble sleeping AND avoids fluids at night.  At the time, I was low on funds, and purchasing one ounce of a tea blend from a reliable herbalist friend was way less expensive than purchasing the individual ingredients.  Blends are quite common in vinegars and elixirs (where a blend of honey and alcohol is used), but for some reason, we tend to shy away from doing this with extracts.  We are always happy to encourage people to do things in ways that work for them, no matter what the conventional wisdom of the moment might be.

In the Jan/Feb '11 issue of The Essential Herbal, Mary Graber of Mountain Mary's in Eagle River, Alaska sent in an article with great ideas for some formulas to try.  In each of them, the herbs are steeped for several weeks in the solvent (aka menstruum) and strained prior to use.  This seemed like a good time to share them.


Super Support
Take 1/4- 1/2 tsp. per hour at symptom onset.
Solvent: 100-proof vodka/brandy
2 parts echinacea root, flower and leaf
2 1/2 parts turmeric
1 cultivated goldenseal root (Use cultivated goldenseal; this herb has been over-harvested.)

Cold & Fever Buster
Take 1/4-1/2 tsp. per hour at the onset of symptoms.
Solvent: 100-proof vodka/brandy
1 part elder flower and elder berry
1 part peppermint leaf
1 part yarrow flower and leaf

Cough & Throat Relief
Take 1/4- 1/2 tsp. per hour at the onset of symptoms.
Solvent: 100-proof vodka/brandy
2 parts mullein leaf
1 part licorice root
1 part wild cherry bark
1/2 part ginger root

Fire Tonic
Take 1/4- 1/2 tsp. per hour at the onset of a cold, or as a daily warming tonic. Makes a great salad dressing.
Solvent: apple-cider vinegar
1 part garlic
1 part onion
1/2-1 part freshly grated horseradish
1/2 part ginger small pinch cayenne
honey to taste (add to finished product)

Mood Lifter
To prevent or ease the winter blues, take 1/2 -1 tsp. three times daily.
Solvent: 100-proof vodka/brandy
2 parts hawthorn berry, plus flower and leaf if available
2 parts lemon balm
1 part St. John's wort
1 part milky green oat tops

Try your hand at a favorite blend soon!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Sandy Michelsen, The Frugal Herbalist   Kalispell, MT
Nov/Dec '12 issue,  Essential Herbal Magazine


It all starts around the end of November, it can sneak up on you if you are not careful.  It can happen at home, at a neighbor’s, at a friend's or even with close relatives.  It starts like this: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and other vegetables, home made dinner rolls, butter, jelly, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, apple pie, cherry pie, ice cream, cookies, candy and last put not least, fruitcake. Then add the toddies, eggnogs, grogs and hot wassail punch along with other favorite holiday drinks.  You have now entered the “Eating Season” which usually continues until after the first of January.

But there is help  …you can find relief and comfort during this time by including some friendly herbs.

Bitters.  In some European countries they drink a bitter aperitif – bitter herbal beverage – before the first bite of a meal to stimulate digestion and keep food moving through the system.  Bitters reduce gas and bloating.
Gentian is the most powerful digestive bitter in Western herbalism.  Its bitter taste stimulates the secretion of saliva, stomach enzymes, and gastric juices and helps relieve symptoms of indigestion.  It is the gentian roots that are used in very small quantities to stimulate the appetite and act as a tonic for digestion.

You can buy bitters at the store or make your own.   Maybe you have an old family recipe.  Here is a recipe I found (by Amy Wisniewski of CHOW.com).
Orange Bitters Recipe
1 750 ml bottle grain alcohol (such as Everclear)
1/2 lb. orange peel pieces (no pith)
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
4 cardamom pods
20 drops gentian extract
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close and store at room temperature. Let steep 14 days, shaking jar every other day.  Then strain the spices from the alcohol and keep the liquid stored in a dark place.

Barberry Root Bark has been called one of the best medicinal plants in North America.  The flavor is a light bitterness mixed with sweet and spicy notes. The bark of the trunk and root is known for its medicinal uses as it contains alkaloids that assist in a number of bodily functions, especially of the digestive tract. Barberry is noted in folk medicine as a cure for nearly every gastrointestinal ailment.

Anise is one of the most effective remedies in combating indigestion. The seeds - and seed oil - of the anise plant are used in herbal preparations. Anise has been used for hundreds of years by European herbalists to treat coughs and indigestion.

Peppermint relaxes the stomach walls.  Peppermint has an eons-old reputation for relieving indigestion and gas.  You can make a tea from the leaves or ingest a few drops of peppermint oil in water.  It is good for digestive distress such as gas, pain and bloating.   Drink peppermint tea, which is an excellent stomach soother, if you've eaten too much.  Warning: pregnant women should not use Peppermint oil.

Ginger relieves that over stuffed uncomfortable-ness.  Ginger contains components that soothe the gut by reducing spasms and increasing secretion of digestive juices.  Ginger is also an aid for motion sickness and nausea.  Drink ginger tea, eat candied ginger or take a capsule of ginger root extract.

Black Licorice is used as an alternative herbal treatment for acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition in which the esophageal sphincter (the flap that separates the stomach from the esophagus) does not remain closed and acid from the stomach splashes into the esophagus. This disorder causes heartburn and discomfort.

Slippery Elm is good for both diarrhea and constipation.  It contains antioxidants that help relieve inflammatory bowel conditions.  Slippery elm contains mucilage which gently coats the lining of the intestinal system. The increased mucus production protects the gastrointestinal tract against heartburn and acid reflux.

Papaya and Pineapple.  Though not herbs, both of these fruits contain enzymes that break down protein and are good for relieving indigestion.

Red Pepper (Capsicum, various species). Americans often believe that hot spices upset the stomach. But, much of the rest of the world knows better—that hot spices like red pepper help soothe it. Red pepper also stimulates digestion.

Carminative Herbs prevent the formation of gas in the digestive tract which is the musculomembranous digestive tube extending from the mouth all the way through the body.

Here is a list of assorted carminative herbs:  agrimony, allspice, apples, basil, bay, bee balm, buckwheat, burdock, caraway, calendula, cardamom, catnip, celery, chervil, chives, cloves, coriander, cumin, dandlion root, dill, fennel, garlic, horehound, hyssop, lemon balm, lemon-grass, lovage, nutmeg, onions, oregano, parsley, parsnips, rosemary, sage, savory, St.John’s Wort, tarragon, thyme, turmeric, vanilla and yarrow.

You can use any of these herbs or a mixture of them to relieve indigestion. They can all easily be made into tea.

Turmeric root helps keep digestive inflammation under control. Turmeric contains curcumin which has an anti-inflammatory effect. It is used for dyspepsia, which is that “Oh, I ate way too much Thanksgiving dinner feeling”.  Turmeric is best taken in capsule form because it will stain anything it touches.

Cinnamon.   Cinnamon is also a carminative   Some studies have shown that Cinnamon helps people with diabetes metabolize sugar better. It is used for flatulence, nausea and to soothe an upset stomach.  In addition, did you know that if you chew cinnamon or cinnamon gum, it curbs your appetite!

Chamomile is for Digestive Problems. Over the centuries, chamomile has proven it works time and again.  As an antispasmodic, it soothes inflammation in the digestive system.  Chamomile is also a carminative, that is, a stomach soother, and it's especially good for indigestion.

So with this information at hand, pick a remedy, sit back, have a cup of herbal tea…..and enjoy the Eating Season.

                               Happy holidays !!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Memory Lapses of Convenience

Apparently the things that come across the screen often rumble around in my brain, waiting for just the right moment to come together.  This morning was such a moment.  For some reason, in the middle of making a pot of coffee, the thought of the new "pods" for laundry and dishwasher popped up, and the idea that the heavy plastic bottles the detergent came in (and the added water content to make the bottles even bigger) would soon be a thing of the past. 
Next thought was of the bags that hold the pods, followed by a vague idea of shops where you could take your own containers to scoop them from bins...
And that led me to start thinking about a headline of an article I saw earlier in the week, stating that the first supermarket had opened as recently as 1946.

Think about that!  Less than 70 years ago, we ate real food.

That (of course) took me down memory lane to my childhood, of milk men, bakery deliveries, the Jewel Tea man, and locals might remember, the Charles Chips man.  There were other sales people who came calling too - Fuller Brush, encyclopedia salesmen, and on and on.  I'm old enough to remember butcher shops, bakeries, the fish market, and the store that only sold fruit.  I can remember wrapping the day's trash in sturdy paper before putting it into the trash barrel because there was no such thing as a plastic garbage bag.  There really was very little trash, especially if there was a compost pile.  Groceries came home in brown paper bags that stood up all by themselves.

A trip to the grocery store with these things swirling in my head the other day, had me looking at all the packaging and marketing that we've come to accept and expect, all of these changes mostly happening within my lifetime.  All the convenient single-servings that are then packaged again in a larger container so that we don't have to take out a spoon and portion it out ourselves.  All the single-use, disposable, plastic, plastic, plastic everything, everywhere.

And I had forgotten.

You might wonder how I can continue to print a magazine while pondering these things, and I admit to sometimes feeling guilt about that.  At least paper is a somewhat renewable, compostable item - even if our readers didn't tell us that they keep every single issue they ever get, forever.  Since the computer has become so much a part of our every day life, printing has fallen off dramatically, with many printing companies going under as magazines and newspapers go on-line (or die).  Our own customer base, when given the choice, chooses paper 20-1 over the virtual magazine, so that's what we do.

But back to the grocery store...
As our food prices soar and our incomes decrease, will we start to realize how much we're paying for those convenient little pre-measured portions?  Will we opt for the pot of coffee over a K-cup, choose the large bag of rice over the boil-in bags?  Might we decide to use a dusting cloth instead of a disposable piece of fluff?  Make our own soups instead of canned?  Buy a quart of applesauce and use a bowl and spoon?  Perhaps we might just be able to separate a slice of cheese on our own? Could this be the time when we start to throw away the throw-aways that destroy the environment and deplete our wallets? 

Something's got to give.  If there is any silver lining to the currently ridiculous state of economics in the country, wouldn't it be great if we suddenly realized what we were doing - and stopped?