Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spring is Going to Pop

Today I got tired of being trapped on the shoveled paths and driveway, and pulled on my snow boots to take my chances.  It was in the low 30's, so the icy crust softened enough to walk on without breaking my neck.
There are a few losses.  The rosemaries gave up the battle a long time ago.  I expect most of the lavenders are dead, too.  It'll be a while before we know, but there are some things that were surprisingly alive.  I had to laugh when I looked at the horehound.  Usually nearly evergreen, this year only the tiniest bit at the very center of the plant shows signs of life.  It'll be fine thought.  Here are some of the sights I saw...
Witch hazel isn't blooming yet, but there are a lot of buds.

No"body" seems to like the vitex berries.  The birds leave them alone. 

Mountain mint seed heads.

Currant plants are covered with buds.

Parsley seedheads

Colorful growth on the fence rails out back

St John's wort leaves don't seem to mind the sub-zero temps.

Sage is still coming along.

A tiny sprout along the elder bough.

across the street

It was surprising to see how few animal tracks were out there.  Usually I can stand on the deck and see where rabbits and birds, raccoons, possums, and even the occasional deer have strolled through the yard.  This year there were just 2 sets of rabbit tracks across the yard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This is Not Right (Feb '15)

We live in a place with all 4 seasons.  I know winter.  This is not our typical winter.  Not even close, actually.  The last thing I remember doing for fun was a brunch in the very beginning of the month, and since then we've been sort of in survival mode.  Sure, I'm exaggerating a little bit - but not as much as I'd like.  We dash out between storms for provisions.  It took me 1/2 an hour to dig the trash can out so we could take it out to the road.
A normal February would be cold, but there would be warmish days during which we could check on the witch hazel flowers and the tiny greens coming up along the creek.  At the moment, I'm considering the use of binoculars, rather than skating across the yard on the thick crust of ice that covers the landscape. 
It's so bad that I am even tired of whining!

So I'm taking a virtual stroll through the summer.  Remember COLOR? Come along if you need a shot of sunshine!


California poppies



ground ivy




oregano blooming




pink poppy
Only a few more weeks until things start to modulate, and won't we be thrilled!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Herb of the week: Peppermint

Chocolate mint with a bit of Heartease popping up to say hello!

Peppermint has always been a great addition to food, medicines, and air fresheners. In the winter it can be added to your favorite hot cocoa and in the spring can be a great addition to any herbal tea.

Peppermint has also been used medicinally in the U.S. since colonialism and throughout the rest of the world for thousands of years. Many use peppermint to help with bloating, cramping, and stomachaches but there are plenty of other ways to use peppermint.

Peppermint contains menthol, which can be useful for breathing problems or skin blemishes.  Drink peppermint tea along with nettles to help alleviate allergy and sinus symptoms. Peppermint tea can also be beneficial for problematic skin. While drinking it may help, putting tea bags that have been steeping in warm water on your face can help shrink blemishes or clear skin.

In the British pharmacopeia, peppermint is still suggested as a treatment to use for babies with colic. Peppermint is also used in many fever teas because it can raise body temperature and helps congestion.

Most commonly, peppermint (essential oil in miniscule amounts) is used in toothpaste and breath mints. During the summer you can collect a few leaves each day and nibble on them as needed. During the winter drinking a tea after meals can help with breath and aid digestion.

My favorite tea for after dinner has peppermint, spearmint, and chamomile. It helps you ease into sleep and not feel groggy the next day.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

March/April 2015 Essential Herbal Magazine

Another juicy issue has hit the mail, and we've got plenty of extra issues if you haven't subscribed yet.  Don't keep missing this great stuff!  SUBSCRIBE HERE
Choose print (US and Canada only), PDF, or a combination of the two at a substantial savings (US and Canada only).  You'll love it.

Here's the table of contents:

Field Notes, Tina Sams
Even in the middle of winter with no outside work to be done, time management is elusive.

Two Easy Ways to Get Allergy Relief with Essential Oils, Liz Fulcher
Learn about some oils and that help, and how to administer them safely!

Folk Remedies for Arthritis, Sandy Michelsen
Take your pick from these old concoctions. They do get passed down for a reason.

Plant an Herbal Sundial, Stephany Hoffelt
Science + magic = flowers telling time.

Kid’s Corner! Check Out Chickweed, Kristine Brown
Chickweed should be out in force now, and you'll want to find her.

Well-Seasoned Salt, Rita Richardson
Take that shaker from the mundane to the extraordinary!

Dandelion Fritters, Marietta Barnett
Food that greets the springtime.

Creamy Irish Broth with Vegetables, Janice Masters
Perfect for those inbetween days when winter fights to hold off spring.

My Snakebite Adventure, Jamie Jackson with Sam Coffman
Don't try this at home, kids... but amazing first-person advice for any sort of venomous encounter.

The Herbs of Avalon, Jackie Johnson
Jackie is putting Glastonbury on a lot of wish lists with this article. As if we needed more reasons...

Hex Signs & PA Dutch Herbalism, Molly Sams
3 generations away from family who were treated by these healers, the interest is stirred anew.

Kava: The Relaxation Inducer, Joe Smulevitz
Exactly what is the status of Kava's safety? You might be surprised to find out.

Rosemary Lavender Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Pure summer sunshine, airy breezes, and clean, fresh scents: this soap.

Time to Sip My Garden Again, Marcia E Herman
Gather the herbs for year-round brewing.

Through the Looking Glass II, Susanna Reppert
Learn about fairy artist Ida Sherbourne Rentoul in this issue!

Spring Cleaning in the Still Room, Catherine Love
Natural cleansers for the house, just in time.

Favorite Spring Tonic, Jackie Johnson
This looks delicious - like root beer.

Feel free to share this post with your herbie friends.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Herb of the Week: Fennel Seed

By: Molly

This herb is seen in many restaurants as an after dinner mint or in tea to help an upset stomach. These tasty little seeds are packed with vitamins and nutrients have been used for thousands of years to treat indigestion and add a little sweetness to dishes.

A great example of its sweetness is adding it to tea. If you do not enjoy licorice, want to avoid sugar and honey, or want to avoid the affects sweetners have on blood pressure, you can add fennel. While working with Heather at Wish Café and Herbs we mixed and tasted a few teas. One we mixed seemed to be missing something. Luckily her friend Padmani suggested adding fennel. After playing with some ratios we ended up with an amazing tea called Rosy Wishes! Tasty and great for you.

Fennel is a carminative and is often used with licorice or dill to treat upset stomachs or flatulence. Until the 60s this treatment was suggested for infants with colic in the U.S. Pharmecapedia I often take it to freshen my breath naturally but it works well to ease bloating during menstruation or after a large meal. If you cannot brew it in tea taking it alone is tasty and a great alternative to sugary mints or gum.

After dinner mint tea:

Four to six servings

1 cup green tea
½ peppermint leaves
½ tablespoon of fennel

Mix well and steep for four minutes.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Philly Expo: The Next Generation

Last month Mom, my aunt, and I all headed down to The Philadelphia gift show to represent Lancaster County Soapworks. I have gone to The Herb Fest in York, Pa and The Landis Valley Garden Show but this was a totally different experience.

Since they started their herb shop back in the day, Mom and Aunt Maryanne have always gone to shows together, travelled together, and had a great time all around. I have never been able to go with because of school, work, or I was too young. After this trip I felt as though I was one of the musketeers. I began to understand their inside jokes and their stories.

The Philly show was massive. The presentations, displays, and products did not seem to have an end. But despite all the glitz and the aggressive sales people we stood out and had an amazing time.

Setting up and getting accustomed to everything was relatively simple. Once we set up our tables we were able to head back to the hotel and unwind. It was luckily a mild and sunny day so we were happy to run around.

The first day of the show we met our neighbors. We first met Vera of Vera and Wolf. Vera and Wolf is a Connecticut-based jewelry business. While all the jewelry is designed in Connecticut, they have their collections created in Bali. By doing so they are able to sustainably craft unique and beautiful jewelry while hiring local women offering them a fair wage. Since the owners, Vera and Wolf, visit Bali three times each year they are able to insure their work to be made with care and  done so responsibly.

Just a glimpse at some of their stunning work.
A piece I was given by my mother for my birthday.
Across from us was Elena’s. Ivan is the owner of Elena’s (Elena is his daughter in case you were wondering), which offers stunning glass pieces like fairy tears and witch catchers. Ivan would keep us howling all day every day. He was a fascinating character and I was truly happy to have the chance to meet him. 

Waste Not was down the way a bit. It’s a business outside of Syracuse New York that “stalks” construction sites and demolished buildings to harvest reusable materials to create beautiful works of art. My favorite part about their business is that their products are functional and affordable pieces of art. Originally Mandy and Greg started out doing custom pieces for friends but as the business grew they became flooded with requests for products. Now they are able to start a wholesale line!

The cutest couple/business partners.

Some of their unique pieces!
Meeting our neighbors, current clients, and some new ones was fun and helped me understand what I need to do to help out with the family businesses. It gave me a new perspective of what my mom and aunt do. While I am always inspired and encouraged by what they accomplish everyday, I had a new found respect for them as well. They believe in what they do. They do it to help others be it their family or their customers. I feel so lucky to be a part of something great.

Also, all the Wegman’s I can eat!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Business - from both sides

Underlying all the plant adventures, writing, and soap making here on our little family commune, there is business.  We've operated many different kinds.  Retail, wholesale, online or brick and mortar - we do (or have done) a lot of different things.  That means that we are pretty much operating on both sides of the fence most of the time.  We provide goods and services, and at the same time we require those things from others.  I really enjoy almost everything about business.  I minored in psychology, and the whys and hows of business are fascinating to me.  The paperwork - not so much.

I just received an order that will not be sold as planned, and it has made me think about how we do things.  Sort of a remedial course.
At the recent wholesale show where we were presenting my sister's soaps, I ordered a few things that looked like they might be good additions to The Essential Herbal product line.  It's always exciting to add things to the site, so the delivery date is always ASAP.  Most things arrived within a week of being ordered. 
One line was a little pricier than we usually carry, so the order was a small test order to see how they did.  It has taken 3 weeks to arrive.  Four of those days were transit.  That's not going to work.  If I went to the trouble to add it to the website and it flew out the door, it would take weeks to replace.  Instead, I'll just take it along to the spring herb faires and be done with it.  So much for that test.

We'll just pack it back up until the herb faires start in April.
 Just for the record, I'm not upset about it.  That's sort of the point of doing things the way we do, but it's a very good thing for us to think about when we're wearing our own wholesale hats.  Sometimes those small orders aren't just a pain in the neck.  Sometimes they are checking out the viability of a larger, more profitable and long-lasting business relationship.
We always try to turn things around in a couple of days here, and usually succeed.  This has been a good reminder to me.  Sometimes - especially during a gloomy, gray winter like this one - it's easy to slack off. 
Even if I'm disappointed to not be carrying this line, at least it served as a good reminder in how important perception and customer service can be.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Shipping Costs from TEH

... and how to use those dollars most effectively. 

Ask any small business the toughest thing about setting up an online cart, and they'll tell you that it's shipping.  Being fair to the customer without losing money is a huge challenge. 

I thought I'd take a moment to explain it, because unless you do a lot of shipping, it seems random and quite possibly out of line.  We use USPS exclusively and being rural, rarely go to town to mail.

So here are a few things to think about...

~Anything that weighs more than 13 ounces must be shipped Priority Mail.  It *could* be shipped via parcel post, but would then need to be taken to the post office, and would also take extra days to arrive.  Also, Parcel Post is not always less expensive.

~Nothing (and I mean nothing) is less than $5.05 via Priority.  That is the online cost of the smallest box and the flat rate envelope - the least expensive options.

~If we can stuff an order into a Priority Regional A box, it will range between $5.44 and about $8 if going to our side of the country.  Going to the other coast it could double - but we take our chances there and use the best (sometimes creative) options possible.

If it requires a larger box or goes cross country, we always eat the expense, because our maximum shipping charge is $8.50, with orders over $150 receiving free shipping.

I try to mention it several times on our shopping cart, but it really makes sense to try to combine orders.  It always saves you shipping costs.  A large book ($5.75shp), a couple bars of soap($3 shp each), and a scone mix ($5 shp) would individually cost $16.75, but is topped out at $8.50.

To illustrate, everything we carry that weighs more than 13 ounces carries a $5 shipping charge.  One item, $5.  Two items, $8.50.  Three, four, five (etc., etc., etc., ) ship for $8.50.  So you start saving on shipping with the second item.

Every business has it worked out to suit their own style.  The above is only valid within the US, and shipping foreign orders is a whole other (very expensive) set of issues.
While we appreciate every order we receive, it is my hope that by explaining this to those of you who do not use the shipping system to ship very often, it will encourage you to save on shipping by planning to get things together rather than spending more money on shipping than you have to.  In some cases, shipping costs more than the item ordered, and that is almost painful for me to pack, because my frugal side fights it.

So there you have it.  That's how shipping works around here.  It took us nearly 10 years to get it to a point that is as fair as we can make it.  In most businesses using USPS, you'll find that grouping items will save you money.  Not all, but most.