Monday, March 16, 2015

Florida Herbal Conference


Last month I was lucky enough to be a patron of the Florida Herbal Conference (FHC) and it was quite a ride.

It was a humbling and encouraging experience for me. I am surrounded by herbs every day with my family, at The Rosemary House, or at Wish but being encircled by different people from different parts of the country taught me a lot.

Possibly one of my favorite parts was that everyone was more than happy to meet everyone. At class, at the tea porch, marketplace, or in line for food you could ask anyone, “how was your day?” and they would be more than happy to tell you. I was taken aback by the genuine goodwill and compassion everyone had.

I also loved how everyone was so excited to educate one another. I could ask anyone a question about herbalism and if they didn’t know we would find out the answer together. The passion within everyone was inspiring to say the least.

I'll be working on a more in depth article for the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal.  You can subscribe to TEH and get lots of great articles and shared experience!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Power of the Seed - book review

This book crossed my desk, and while I found it interesting because I use lots of oils in things like salves and such, I passed it along to my sister, Maryanne Schwartz of Lancaster County Soaps, Etc. because oils are such a big part of what she does.

Here's what she had to say:

Power of the Seed, Your Guide to Oils for Health and Beauty
Susan M Parker

This is a great reference book for those who use oils in creating health and beauty products or even a great reference for those who just use those products. 

It came to me at a time when I am in the process of formulating some new products for my business and we were using fractionated coconut oil for one of the products.  Someone casually said, “What is fractionated coconut oil, anyway?”  I knew something about the properties of the oil and why we were using it in the product, but really wasn’t sure how it was made. The very next day, I started looking through “Power of the Seed” and there it was - the whole explanation of fractionated coconut oil! 

The book contains a lot of in depth information and it is easy to be drawn into various sections. As a soap maker, I am always striving to get a better understanding of my craft and the discussions of saturated and unsaturated oils, saponifiables in oils,  explanations of various properties that will definitely help in the design of products.  I will admit that for the first year or so of soap making, we were constantly changing and refining our basic recipe with the little information available and a lot of trial and error.  This book would have been very helpful.

For those who want a springboard of nice recipes to get started - the information is here, but better than just a recipes, the author supplies reasons why each ingredient is used as well as possible substitutes. So, it is a source of information as well as inspiration.

Although this is not the kind of book to read cover to cover in one sitting, as the author says, it is a great place to “go look it up”!

The book is published by 
Direct link to purchase:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Herbs in the Spotlight - 2015 - Savory and Dittany

2015 Herbs in the Spotlight
Jan/Feb '15

Each year 2 herbs are chosen for study.  The  International Herb Association chooses what is known as “The Herb of the Year,“ and the Herb Society of America chooses a “Notable Native.”   The Notable Native program, beginning in 2012, is fairly new to the arena, but the Herb of the Year has been going strong since 1995.
One of the most amazing things about these programs is that they bring up a plant for discussion and use, and by the end of the year we all know a good bit more about it than we did going into the year.  Recent examples for me are horseradish (HOTY 2011) and spicebush (NN 2012).  Neither of them held much interest for me, but in researching and writing about them, I came to learn that they both have a great deal to offer us.  Our woods are filled with spicebush, and there’s a large patch of horseradish out in the back border now.  In all honesty, I’m looking at the two choices for 2015 with the same lackluster interest, but am certain that by the end of the year I will have a new respect for and knowledge of them both.

Herb of the Year:  Savory Saturea ssp.

There are two types of Savory, Winter (Satureia montana) and Summer (Satureja hortensis).   They are from the Lamiaceae, or Mint family.  Winter Savory is a semi-evergreen perennial and blooms in winter.  Summer Savory is an annual.  Although Winter Savory has a sharp flavor and Summer Savory is more sweet, they are used interchangeably as a seasoning. The name itself has come to mean a specific type of food, full of flavor and depth.  The piney and peppery Winter Savory is (in my mind) more responsible for that.  Folklore has it that Winter Savory decreases the sex drive, while Summer Savory enhances it, so you may want to keep that in mind while flavoring those side dishes. 

Savory is known as "the bean herb."  In fact the German word for the herb is Bohenkraut - which means bean herb and that might be due to its ability to help with bloating, and flatulence.  It can be made into a tea as well as used as a seasoning, and helps with colic, stomach upsets, diarrhea, and indigestion, and because it contains tannins as well as possessing antibiotic properties, it helps with sore throats.  It is also mildly expectorant.  It can help relieve abdominal cramping.

On the west coast, varieties of Savory (as well as several other herbs) may go by the nickname Yerba Buena.  Satureja douglasii and Satureja viminea are two of these that are made into teas and sipped as "the good herb."  However, depending on location, there are several mints and quite a few other plants that also go by that moniker.

It can be made into a mild salve to help with insect stings and rashes.  To do that, one would simply steep the Savory in a fat or oil, strain, and combine with enough beeswax to make it the proper feel.

Winter Savory was used in knot gardens during the Tudor era in England, and often beehives were located near them so that the honey would be flavored with the herb.

Both Winter and Summer Savory grow easily and quickly from seed.  They aren't fussy, but Summer Savory might grow so quickly that it falls over, so be sure to cut it often and use it! 
If you don't get around to using it right away, Savory dries beautifully.

Savory contains essential oil  Commercially it is used in soaps and toothpastes. As with all essential oils, this one will cause skin irritation if used without proper dilution.  It should not be taken internally.

All in all, not a bad little herb to have around.

Notable Native:  Common Dittany Cunila origanoides

Several years ago my sister and I went out to Somerset for a couple days to take part in an herb gathering that Barb and Fred Will of Sugar Grove Herbs were holding.  We stayed at a nearby campground that was only a road and a skinny little scratch of woodland away from a large lake. The plant diversity we saw in that area was staggering. That little bit of land between us and the lake yielded many first time sightings for me.  There were mayapples that had been allowed to ripen, for instance.  Our deer don't let that happen.  So I got to taste a mayapple.  There was ghost pipe growing in the rotting hardwood leaf litter.  Crossing a strip of dry, sunny land, we were struck with the sharp scent of oregano.  Looking down there was this scraggy little plant with tiny whorls of pinkish flowers.  It was Dittany, a plant I'd never seen before, couldn't identify at the time, but will not soon forgot. 

Also in the Lamiaceae family, this perennial sub-shrub is nicknamed wild oregano, stonemint, and frost flower. Frost flowers are an unusual and interesting phenomena described as follows by the Missouri Dept. of Conservation's website:
"Frost flowers occur only in late fall after the first few hard freezes and while the ground is still warm. Their season is brief, and they disappear quickly on the day they occur, melting like frost when the air warms or rays of sunlight fall on the delicate structures.While the plants’ stems are ruptured by the first hard freeze, the root system is still sending up plant sap from the warmer ground. The sap pushes through the broken stem and freezes on contact with the cold air. As more saps moves up, it forces the freezing stream of white ice crystals into ornate, folded ribbons that look like petals, puffs of cotton candy, or snarls of white thread."

The taste of the leaves is sharp, but the infusion or tea is fairly pleasant.  Just like the Savory discussed above, Dittany is also terrific for all of the gassy, bloaty, crampy bellies, and helps with heartburn and upsets too.  It can be used for headaches colds and fevers and encourages perspiration.  Not recommended for pregnant women, as it is sometimes used to bring on menstruation.

Considering how strongly this plant carries a scent that closely resembles Oregano, it also has many similarities in medicinal uses.  It is useful against upper respiratory infections, sinus congestion, coughs, tonsillitis, and any lung or bronchial debility.

An essential oil, known as cunila oil, obtained from the plant is antiseptic, aromatic and stimulant and can be useful against joint pain and muscular strains. 

Dittany is antifungal, making it terrific for athlete's foot, or any fungal skin infection.  Great on insect bites, skin rashes, and scrapes, this is a great contribution to a salve blend - or could be the single herb used, for that matter (although I'm thinking some plantain and comfrey would be nice).

Common Dittany grows easily from cuttings.  It dries well for use over the winter.

I find it extremely interesting that although the plants chosen for this year's study are completely different (although both in the mint family) they have very similar applications medicinally. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Herb of the Week - Elecampane

Herb of The Week: Elecampane
 Molly Sams

Last week my mom was making a knockout of a syrup which had osha and elecampane. It filled our whole home with the smell of what I can only describe as rotting woodland. It was pungent, encompassing, but I’m sure to those who are sick, incredibly comforting.

Elecampane has been used since medieval times to treat lung and breathing issues and was even eaten as candy or throat lozenges later in the 1600s. Because elecampane is diuretic, tonic, diaphoretic, expectorant, alterative, antiseptic, astringent, and a stimulant it is great for getting mucus and other bodily fluids moving within the body and easing a dry cough.

I remember this herb well from my tween years. I had bronchitis and despite fighting taking the (what I was sure was toxic juice) elecampane tooth and nail I was relieved and able to go practically the whole night without coughing. While I tried to hide my enthusiasm from my mother (don’t want her to get too cocky) she continued making more syrup happily knowing she had won.

It’s a good idea to always have a bit of syrup on hand during the winter. It can be added to other syrups (such as elderberry) for a combination of ailments or to help the taste and to test children trying to stay home from school just how sick they really are. It’s amazing how health can bounce back in a child after being threatened with elecampane.

Cough and Cold Syrup (Mom's)
1 T elecampane root
1 T osha root
1 T wild cherry bark
1 lemon
1 qt water
Simmer together until the water is reduced by half.
possible additions:
licorice root
mullein leaf
horehound leaf
(add the leaves for the last few minutes of simmering the roots) 

If everyone using the syrup will be old enough for honey, combine 2 cups honey with 2 cups of concentrated "tea."  Use by the tablespoon.

If using sugar, combine the 2 cups of concentrate with 3 cups sugar and bring to a rolling boil for 2 or 3 minutes.