Monday, June 15, 2015

Essential Herbal July/August 2015 Issue

The newest issue is in the mail (with plenty of extras if you aren't a subscriber yet - click here).  There's so much good stuff here.  As usual, something for everyone, and then some. 
Surf's up.  Dive in!
Check out the Table of Contents below:
Field Notes, Tina Sams
Deciding what to keep and what to let go to make room for life.
About the Cover, Carey Jung
She was drawn to tropical beaches for this issue’s cover.
Herbal Brews to Help Beat the Heat, Catherine Love
What could be more refreshing than these perfect blends?
Floral Waters and Colognes, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Make your own wearable scents, starting with these recipes.
“Brainiac/Maniac:” Herbs that Support the Nervous System, Suzan T Scholl
The nervous system is important for our emotional and physical well-being. Learn to support it naturally.
Mints, Mints & More Mints, Sandy Michelsen
Easy to grow and use, there’s a reason that mints are in almost every herb garden.
Creating a Nature Table, Betsy May
Do you come home with pockets full of seeds, rocks, and feathers? This is for you.
Roll Me Over, In the Clover, Cathy Calf Child Strong Hearted Woman
Need a reason to gather the red clover growing outside? Cathy gives us about 100 good ones.
Kids Corner! Loving That Lavender, Kristine Brown
All about lavender and her lessons. Instructions for an eye pillow, too!
Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia), Jackie Johnson
How and why to use this beautiful, relaxing herb.
Corn Mother Silk Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Lush, silky bubbles from the oft overlooked corn silk.
What’s in a Name? Sue Kusch
Do you know your officinale from your vulgaris? You should.
My Love Affair with Lavender, Gale LaScala
Some fascinating history regarding lavender.
What Drew Me to Herbs? List
We asked the Yahoo! group how they first became interested in herbs.
Herbal Kitchen Braid, Rita Richardson
Keep culinary herbs handy with this attractive craft, and maybe make an extra or two for gifts.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mid-June Gatherings

Right now I could spend every minute from sun up to sundown harvesting.  This coming week especially will be busy, though.
The black raspberries gave me handful for breakfast yesterday.  This morning there were nearly a pint, and there will be another pint tonight, and so on twice daily for at least a week or more.
Pie?  Frozen?  Juiced and frozen to add to an elderberry syrup later?  Oh... maybe I'll just eat these.

On the way down to the soap workshop, I try to grab some of yarrow.  This bunch didn't make it any further than a wide bowl, where it has dried nicely.  The motherwort is in full bloom, and so far I've just gotten one jar of tincture started, and need to get back over to that patch.
Perfectly air dried, this yarrow forgave me for not taking the time to properly lay it out.

The mints have been picked almost daily, and there is a large sheet filled with leaves drying upstairs.
The spearmints mingle together and will make a refreshing meadow tea.

The roses are nearly finished.  Most of the petals have gone into various concoctions, but I hope to get a few more gathered before it's too late. 
This basket WAS almost full, but it's hard to resist those petals!

A row of lavender grows next to the raspberries, and we try to pick a bunch at least once a day.  The taller variety is almost ready for us to start weaving into lavender wands.
Molly started picking lavender a week ago, but now that the berries next to it are ripe, we'll do that at the same time.

There is a lot of gathering to be done.  Jewelweed is nearly 2 feet tall beside the porch, and we need to process that with lots of plantain for the next year's soap and 5 Star salve.  The St. John's wort is covered with swelling yellow buds, so that will be coming up in a couple of days too.  The front garden is ablaze with CA poppies, so some of that will be harvested.  Some of the hyssop should be dried too.

In the middle of all this gathering, the drying of herbs is the easy part.  There are all kinds of infusions and concoctions lining the kitchen shelves now, and projects set up and ready to go.
Another salve waiting to be put together and jarred.

These are all chores that I look forward to each year.  It can be difficult to fit everything into a day.  There is a short window each year when they are available, and if they're missed, that's it.  We're working on another huge project right now, so it has to fit in between that.  Luckily, Molly loves to gather herbs and fruits as much as I do, so we can grab a bunch of baskets and wander out together, talking and laughing while we work.  Without a doubt, that makes it even better.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The grocery store will miss me...

Since moving here in '05, there have been several on-going but casual projects.  For one, we try to reintroduce some natives into the woodland area.  Next week I'm planning to start (since there is finally sufficient shade) a garden closer to the house where I can keep an eye on some, nurture them, and then put clumps into the woods.
Another project has been to include as many food and medicine plants into the gardens around the house as we can.  This has been easy and fun.  Hopefully in the next year I will put in a good asparagus patch.  I'm not much into maintenance, so the plants need to be mostly able to care for themselves.  So far, so good.  Here's a little of what's going on right now...

 Daylilies (sometimes called "ditch lilies") are very commonplace, but we like to eat the small flower buds.  It helps to have them around in the gardens so that we can be more aware of just the right time to start harvesting them.  They can be bullies in the garden, so be sure to give them their own space.

 A couple years ago, we tackled the wild black raspberries that were growing next to the house.  As you can see, that was not entirely (hah) successful.  I think they are worse now than they were before!
Below, you can see part of the 50 foot row of raspberries I created from the roots salvaged from that little adventure.  Last year we had so many berries that I just used the last frozen quart a week ago in a cobbler.
Black raspberries are sometimes called "black caps."  Smaller and more rounded than blackberries, they are seedy - but very flavorful; a brief summer delicacy that normally requires a sojourn into brambles, ticks, and poison ivy.  I very much like having them in such a convenient location.
This is how one section of the back is laid out.  There are plants on both sides of the split-rail fence.  To the right of the blueberries, there is a sour cherry tree.  On the other side, we have Jerusalem artichokes, passionflower vine, and mountain mint - with some beautiful red clover showing up on its own.  To the left is a culinary and medicinal herb garden on the closest side of the fence, with berries, tomatoes, and medicinals on the other side.

 Three cornelian cherry bushes are fruiting for the first time this year.  Cornelian cherries are a type of dogwood.  The other well-known fruiting dogwood (edible), Kousa, is elsewhere on the property, and also across the street.
A small orchard was added last year, with a couple peach trees, a couple apples, a plum, and a pear.  This is the only fruit so far, but the blossoms were magnificent!  Next year...

 Figs.  I've had some great success growing figs without protection in our climate.  Brown Turkey did very well for 6 years, but then a harsh winter made the bunnies strip the bark.  It grew back from the roots, but they got it again this year.  NOTE TO SELF... protect figs from rabbits and deer over the winter. 
This particular fig is a Chicago Fig tree.  It is even hardier than the Brown Turkey, so it is on the edge of the orchard, completely unprotected.  Looks like it does okay there, but again, it was nibbled down pretty hard.  I'll protect it this winter, but won't be surprised if I get an autumn fig or two.

 Sour cherries.  The birds are already staking them out, so this year I'll probably let them have most of them.  They're small, and a slightly different variety should help with that when that tree gets big enough to blossom.  Neighbors around me also have sour cherry trees, and I've seen birds flying with cherries in their mouths - it's hilarious.

The blueberries are having a spectacular year.  It might be time to prune them after they're finished.  I need to read up on that.

Asian persimmons - the tree is once again full of blossoms.  The groundhog will be so happy.  We planted it so that we can harvest right from the deck, and I believe that this year that will indeed be happening!  The native persimmon doesn't seem to be blooming, but it may still come through.  Otherwise, there's always next year.

The black currants are just going to town.  It seems like they are getting picked by something wild.  Maybe birds.  But there are plenty for everyone.

Gooseberries are also loaded this year.  There are 2 at the top right that are almost ripe.  This bush ripens to burgandy, and another bush ripens to a pink blush. 

So there are quite a few of the foods growing around the house.  Great burdock has been introduced under one of the large conifers out back, and I think I'll let that continue to grow.  Purslane and lambsquarters grow freely along with chickweed, plantain, and dandelion.  We do little to control them.  There are mulberry trees and ground cherries within an easy walk, and last year there was a lot of chicken of the woods mushroom that we dried and added to lots of meals over the winter.
Much of what grows in the woods is delicious.
Although most of these plants wouldn't really be considered "wild" since I've cultivated them and "rounded them up" to be close by, but in my opinion, wild food shouldn't be thought of as subsistence or survival food.  Many of the weeds we eat were brought here with great forethought from across the sea because they were important and beloved plant sources.
If you have the space, grow some food.  If you don't, learn about some wild ones.  You'll be glad you did!

Friday, June 05, 2015

Beeswax Alchemy - a review

We have a small stack of books here that are due to be reviewed.  It seems to me that in most cases Molly would be able to give a more meaningful point of view.  After all, she's the exact audience I hope will find my own books!  Well learned, unquenchable thirst for more knowledge, and still new enough to be thrilled - the perfect reviewer.

A Few Thoughts on “Beeswax Alchemy” by Petra Ahnert

First, the book is lovely and filled with delightful photos that made me want to make everything.

My previous knowledge of beeswax is somewhat limited. Since I was little I was always encouraged to craft with beeswax and I remember creating little animals and dolls. After reading Beewax Alchemy, I am more confident about using beeswax in crafts more complex than tiny bowls and doggies. This is a great introduction to beeswax and can be a solid foundation for anyone who wants to begin crafting soap, candles, salves, and some surprise treasures that could be fantastic for birthdays or Christmas. Here are a few of my favorites.

Fire Starters

This simple craft is perfect for a rainy day at home with kids or preparing for a camping trip. By dipping pinecones in beeswax and attaching wicks you can make beautiful, biodegradable fire starters that will look great in and out of the campfire.

A helpful part about her directions for this project (as well as others in the book) is that she gives advice in the note section.  In this project she advises you wait to until the cones are completely dry to avoid mishaps or injury. While to some it may seem like common sense, I know I would have plucked the pinecone straight from the tree this fall and dunked it in wax right away, causing an explosion that would make Wiley Coyote wince.

Beeswax Ornaments

These beautiful decorations can be a fun way to spend a snow day with your family or by yourself. These ornaments can make great gifts anytime of the year. They smell lovely and last forever. Be sure to have a sturdy candy mold for these and plenty of patience. While they will dry relatively quickly they will need time and care when you take them out of the mold.

This project is one of her beginner projects. I think it was clever that she worked through and graded each project on difficulty but makes it customizable for everyone. It helps you make a variety of crafts and build confidence to try the next one.

Rosebud Salve

While I use different ingredients, this salve definitely inspired me to create my split end wax. The hint of rose in the salve is perfect and works well to keep your hair healthy and shiny. All the crafts she demonstrates have practical use and often had me thinking, “Oh my gosh! That’s so smart!”

This book definitely inspired me to learn more about beeswax and find out what I can create with it. Beeswax Alchemy is a perfect introductory book or can reawaken those who haven’t worked with beeswax in years.
Need your own copy?  Here's one place to get it: