Friday, May 27, 2016

A week in review

by Molly Sams

The hill has been a buzz with everything going on. The new issue has been drafted, fats have been shipped, I'm getting ready for The Midwest Herbal Conference, and the gardens are full of flowers, bees, and everything in between. Summer is finally here and I'm thrilled to see it again. As everything has been going on I've been trying to capture snapshots. Here are a few. Hopefully there will be more to come!

Lulu supervising the moving of the fats.
Fats all nestled into the workshop.

Soloman's Seal is growing beautifully in front of our home.

Bark from a Barberry bush on the side of our home. Full of berberine!

And finally Mullein is popping up all through our fields.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review of The Culinary Herbal by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker

by Molly Sams

Belsinger and Tucker have both worked with herbs in culinary and medicinally fields for many years. Between the two of them they have generations worth of experience (from teachers and family) that have culminated into a wonderful, detailed, and stunning book. The Culinary Herbal is perfect for anyone who wants to incorporate herbs into their diet quickly and easily. The breakdown the palate, use, and growing habits of 97 culinary herbs and do so with captivating photography and easy-to-understand entries. After discussing each herb in detail they move on to discuss growing herbs in a garden (container, indoor, propagation, etc.) and then how to preserve and cook them (vinegars, oils, salts, etc.) I cannot suggest this enough for any new couple purchasing their first home or a college grad who is on their own far away from their mother’s kitchen.

The Breakdown

The first section of the culinary herbs is detailed and wonderfully illustrated. Each photo is done with care so you can clearly see the aerial and base parts of the herb. From there Belsinger and Tucker go on to describe the most popular dishes that contain the herb and what sort of tastes it gives on its own or in meals. From there they go onto discuss growing behavior and how to harvest and preserve each plant. I personally believe this is a wonderful idea because many new herbies may not know what to do after harvest day. Do I dry it or put it in vinegar? Do I make a paste, a salt, or a sugar? This book offers base suggestions and encourages you to explore further; something that I believe is important in all concentrations of herbalism.


Within the first paragraph I was thrilled by their advice. Don’t, “try to jam peppermint and thyme next to each other in an artificial ecological setting that would make extra work.” While I do love beautifully manicured gardens of the British estates or the meticulously managed vegetable garden from the White House, nothing makes me feel like a real gardener more than when my plants are thriving where they want to be. This sort of advice is crucial for newbies. Don’t feel pressured to become Martha Stewart over night. Your garden will look beautiful no matter how wild because well, it’s a garden.

From that absolutely essential piece of advice they go on to discuss the importance of understanding your plants to keep them healthy and happy and finding a way to make your garden work for you.  Wonderful nuggets of advice so new herbies understand they do not need to have massive lush gardens to be successful. Just have happy plants that you can snip for your meals. It doesn’t matter if they are indoor, in containers, or somewhere in a field.


This section was another important point in my opinion. In the section they discuss practices such as drying the herbs and preserving them over time. They also discussed harvesting during the peak hours of the plant. While I believe that if you can do this you should, I do not believe a whole crop is wasted if you don’t. You should harvest when you have a chance. Be that before work in the morning or after dinner with your family. It is always a good time to go out and smell the Rosemary.

Cooking (of course)

Finally the section with the recipes was short and sweet. While I believe that they could have gone into more detail (maybe their own favorite recipes) I’m glad they highlighted the basics of syrups, oils, pastes, and butters. When you are a new herbie sometimes you have to go through the basics so you have new ways to explore.

Overall I believe this book can be a wonderful addition to any beginner’s kitchen. I think it has a lot to offer for inspiration and experimentation. Exactly what an herbal book should do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Medicinal Weed Walk

On Saturday we had our weed walk.  Since it has been raining for the past month, we decided not to venture into the woods, and I was able to come up with almost 40 very valuable weeds right in the yard.  We had plenty of things to look at, and we managed to finish up just before the rain began (again).
 We spent the day before pulling together the handouts and planning exactly what we'd be making with those lovely weeds.
Everyone arrived right on time.  It was an interesting group, with about half of them traveling at least an hour to get here.  Before we headed out, we suggested that people think about what they'd like to try as we wandered around talking about the actions of the weeds because they would be needing to harvest about a 1/2 cup of botanicals to create a tincture for themselves.
Out we went.

I'm actually a little rusty, and it takes me some time outside each spring to reacquaint myself with some of the weeds, so I was glad to have Molly and Maryanne along to pitch in.
 In fact, the only plant I didn't know was one Maryanne pointed out.  It was a wildflower that I planted in the garden - how's that for ironic?
After about an hour (during which I realized how very diverse the plants in the yard are...) the storm clouds rolled in and we wrapped it up outside.
Inside, Molly made the tea we had harvested outside, while explaining the choices and how to make it.  I talked about how I find it harder to make a bad blend than it is to make a good one.
The blend we used:
1 part Stinging Nettles
1 part Black Raspberry Leaves
1 part Chocolate Mint
1/4 part Spearmint

Earlier in the day, we'd put oil on to warm with echinacea, plantain, and violet leaves and flowers.  We strained that out and added beeswax, poured it into little jars, and labeled them.  We'd talked about the plants used, and they were also written up in the handout.
 Finally everyone made small jars of tincture.  Every summer I wind up making several from plants that I find and either am not familiar with, or have not learned enough about to use.  Often I find later that tincture is something I'll use.  If not - it doesn't hurt me to throw out 3 or 4 ounces of tincture.

It was a very fulfilling class.  One attendee was surprised to find that she really liked the tea, and was looking forward to using the salve, while another told me that although she's made oils and tinctures before, she never harvested them from their natural environment before.  Both of those comments explain exactly why we do what we do.  They made my week.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Interview with Marlene Adelmann

Marlene Adelmann is the founder and director at The Herbal Academy. She has been everything from a caterer, mother, and teacher and has made sure to include herbs in every facet of her world. Adelmann is a wonderful wealth of knowledge of all things herbal and is now teaching at The Herbal Academy in New England as well as structuring classes, lessons, and everything in between.

Did being a vegetarian influence your initial interest in herbs? 

Yes, I think it did. When you are working with plants as your main food substance, it is easy to get absorbed in their beauty and wonder. I tend to eat and prepare food first on a healing basis and secondly for taste and pleasure. That is not to say that healing foods are not deliciously scrumptiousbecause they areit is to say that the deliciousness is an uncalculated bonus most of the time. Vegetables, fruits, and herbs are interchangeable in many ways, perhaps not in a classical sense, but I prepare many herbs as food and use fruits and vegetables in remedies.

How did your catering company influence your herbal practice? 

Aside from the obvious answer about working with herbs in culinary creations, my catering career gave me real, practical tools for my life as an herbalist today. Catering was the hardest work I have done to date and that includes raising three children! I learned to hear what wasn’t being said in catering consultations so I could determine what my client was really asking for and deliver it. I learned how to work in many different environmentsinside, outside, on a boat, on a beach, in a church, in the woods. I set up makeshift kitchens, and worked in galley kitchens and in kitchens bigger than my home! Most importantly, I learned to be resourceful. If a client wanted a chimpanzee to answer the door for guests, you can believe I was going to figure out how to get one.

As the director of the Academy, I have to steer a lot of people in the right direction, but I also have to be keenly aware of different personalities and pick up on clues that may be floating around but not being verbalized so every situation can be addressed appropriately. A good herbalist is a good listener for what is being said and not said. As an herbalist, I find myself in many unusual environments and I am well equipped to accommodate these circumstances. I am just as at home in someone’s living room as I am in a tree house. Running the school in our physical space as well as in our online environment, there have been many times when we have been called on to make things happen in one way or another. If something goes wrong or breaks, we have to solve it as quickly as possible. Students depend on us to come up with quality material and a comfortable platform from which to work. We have listened and responded in a way that we think fills a need!

How do you balance your herb usage? What herbs are for culinary use and what herbs do you use medicinally?

Hmm, I don’t think balance is part of my vocabulary when it comes to herbs. I use herbs in a very unbalanced way. In fact, if the herbs I use on a regular basis accumulated on only one side of my body, I would be walking with one hand swiping the ground! So, there are many herbs that I use in the kitchen that has no flavor enhancement abilities whatsoever—I mean none. They are dreadful taste companions but they offer superb nutritional value or they are tonic and immune boosting, so they go into the omelet or the soup or the salad for good reason and good measure. The culinary herbs that are gorgeously tasteful are used skillfully to elevate the dish, but they too add powerful nutrients and antioxidants. Yes, there are certainly herbs that should be used in moderation, but many herbs are pretty compatible with regular use. Some of my favorites to use both medicinally and culinarily include rosemary, nettles, oregano, turmeric, basil, garlic, ginger, fennel, licorice root, sage, sumac, mint, rose, lavender and dandelion.  I will add other medicinal herbs like ashwaganda root, astragalus and echinacea if not for good taste, certainly for good measure.

You can read the rest of the interview in our July/August issue. Here is a link where you can subscribe:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Landis Valley: The Deluge Edition


As many of you know we love heading down to Landis Valley every year as vendors. It is always a wonderful time where we reunite with old friends, catch-up, and make some new friends along the way. This year was no different. We were able to see everyone from last year and then some. Our reunion, however, could have used a bigger boat.
Maryanne found these cool CAYENNE sunglassees, and they were great because it looked so might brighter when she took them OFF.
 On Friday we were welcomed to a massive amount of rain and Susanna from The Rosemary House warmly welcoming us with her rendition of Singing in the Rain. We laughed, we pitched the tent, and we were ready. At nine everyone started flooding (all pun intended) through the gates for their plants. Everyone was pleasant and sweet just like any other sunny first day of Landis Valley. We could not believe how nice everyone was and how they were still excited to see old friends, flora and fauna.
Remember, there were very few moments that didn't include active rain.  These people are dedicated and intrepid!
Saturday was much more cooperative weather wise. We were able to get out and see other vendors and try the local cuisine (AKA Rachel’s Creperie and the new cupcake place). It was awesome. We started with several different crepes from Rachel’s like their Thai Chicken and The Capri, which were amazing. And then we had herbie-flavored cupcakes like lemon basil and lavender chocolate. It was a wonderful day.
Sharing a few shot we have of the end of the day. We hope to see you there next year!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Aromatherapy Garden, by Kathi Keville - a review

The Aromatherapy Garden: Growing Fragrant Plants for Happiness and Well-Being by Kathi Keville, Published by Timber Press 978-1-60469-549-6
Some of you know I was laid up for the first half of this week, and I spent a lot of time lolling around in a prone position.  My attention span was a little altered, but it was intact enough to thoroughly enjoy this newly released book.  So much beauty!

When we think of aromatherapy, we always think of essential oils.  At this point in time, we have so many people using oils without getting the education required, so it is a huge relief to read a book that gives us a different way to look at it.  While oils are discussed, aromatherapy can most certainly be a walk in the garden, the brewing of a cup of tea, or the whiff of a bouquet on the kitchen table.  It can be very simple.
The first section of the book talks about essential oils.  The author discusses how they are perceived by the brain, how they are made, the purpose they serve the plants, and some history of scents and their uses.  She talks about how the different aspects of scents change the way we feel.

Then we walk into the garden...
The book is full of beautiful photographs of plants, plantings, and full garden shots.  It is luscious and inspiring.  The idea of gardening almost entirely for fragrance is introduced, although visual beauty is a given, and as any herbalist knows, many of the plants have multiple uses.  Things like vinegars, spice blends, sachets, and tea blends are discussed.
The second half of the book alphabetically addresses specific plant profiles (mostly flowering) that have spectacular scent.  Many of them are meant to grow in zones 7 and up.
 I live in 6b and am too lazy to drag things inside and out, so reading about these scrumptious plants and floral scents was fascinating.  Some of them I may include on a patio garden, knowing that they will not last after a frost.

This book is really timely.  If you're just getting into aromatherapy, it's got a lot to teach.  If you've been working with aromatherapy for a long time, it will give you a new point of view.  I really like and recommend it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Reflections of an Herb Gardener

Jackie is an excellent gardener, and in order to get there one needs to make lots of mistakes.  We think that each spring we all can use a good shot of humor, so we don't take ourselves (and our mistakes) too seriously.

Reflections of an Herb Gardener
By Jackie Johnson
Jan/Feb '10 Essential Herbal
To those who are afraid of starting an herb garden, don’t be.  The rewards – having your own fresh herbs to use and dry, the therapy of working in the dirt, the ability to sit quietly and meditate in your own special place – far outweigh the “errors in judgment” one can make.

Looking back at my first herb garden, I now recognize all the mistakes I made (according to the books).  Looking back at my second herb garden, I recognize all the mistakes I made.  Looking back at my third herb garden….

Here are a few reflections to share with fellow herb gardeners, and especially for those thinking of starting one.

Start small and keep a journal of what went where and why.  This is a very good idea.  I did that.  I had a wonderful drawing of where everything was to go backed up with very compelling reasons why – color, height etc.  This drawing was the culmination of many hours of intense study.  Plans and drawings do not take life into account.  My first herb garden was going well, when one day I was given close to 50 plants the night before I was to leave for a four-day horse show.  That meant most were planted in the dark; and towards the end it was “just get it in the ground, anywhere!”  Flexible.   That’s what you need to be – flexible.

Mark your plants so you know what went where.  I did that too.  On wood, plastic and metal.  With pencil, pen, waterproof sharpies, crayon.  Nothing is permanent.  Anyone have any other ideas that won’t cost more than the house?

Don’t plant mints by other mints.  This is such good advice.  But hard to do when its dark, you’re tired and everything smells the same.  I don’t care what “they” say, a Spearmint/Peppermint cross can be lovely too.

I wish someone had told me how non-invasively challenged Tansy really is.  I mean actually sat me down and described my life with Tansy in a few years.

That Evening Primrose (properly identified by the person who gave it to me) never gave me the lovely flowers at dusk all the books claimed it would.  How many evenings did I check it out at different times in an attempt to “catch” it at the right moment.  Of course, it’s probably best that it never did produce those evening blossoms….since it was MUGWORT!!!

Twenty-seven (27) bags of mulch can hide a lot…for about 3 days.  (Note:  A weekend.)  You can get 27 bags of mulch in a Chevy Avalanche.

Herb gardens are the best place to meditate.

Don’t plant Tansy near Valerian.  The babies look a lot alike.  (Actually, I don’t remember planting the Tansy near the Valerian!)

Don’t pull what looks like baby burdock out by the roots with great glee when it comes up near where the Clary Sage was planted.

Mullein can grow wherever it wants.   Who am I to tell the Mullein it doesn’t belong on an herb garden path?

Yarrow really does stop the bleeding…..

Sweet Annie needs some help propagating itself in the spring.  I made a wonderful stone circle for the Sweet Annie.  Lasted a year.  Tansy likes stone circles too.

The guy who gives you crown vetch for the ditch so you don’t have to cut it, is NOT your friend. 

If you sit very still, the bunnies come back.  Sometimes the fairies do too.

Gooseneck Loosestrife propagates by itself.  Even a large Sage plant can get lost in the Loosestrife.

Garden fabric doesn’t work.  Shavings don’t work.  Mulch doesn’t work.  The jury is still out on four inches of pea gravel.  (Update, didn’t work, yarrow can get thru it.)

In the moonlight, Angelica looks a lot like little people dancing.

Lemon Balm will grow between the slats of a park bench.  Tansy will too.

It is NOT an old wives tale – Rue in the sunlight really does give some nasty blistery burns.

In an herb garden, always smell it before yanking an unidentified plant out by the roots.

Large gas powered weed whacking machines do not kill Tansy.  They merely prune it and make it healthier.

In fact, weed whacking machines do not kill many herbs at all.   But they can make paths.

Ladys Mantle can get really big.  Horehound doesn’t thrive well under it.  Lavender seeds, however, do very well under Dusty Miller.

You’re never really done weeding and the best weeding tool is your hand.  Even the  12.95 weeding wonder doesn’t do as well.  Nor does the $19.95 one, or the $39.95 one….

I don’t think I shall ever get past the belief that these plants are living beings and entitled to be here, even more than I am.  (Including the Tansy)  I don’t think I want to get past that belief. 

But sitting on the bench in my herb garden, between the Lemon Balm and the Tansy growing up between those slats, I consider all the challenges, discoveries and therapy my garden has given me.  As I breathe in the subtle smells from all directions the reality of it is clear, there is no right or wrong way if you’re happy.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Booth Set-Up or Tear-Down Etiquette

I'm sure we have annoyed people in our 20-plus years of participating in all kinds of events.  Some organizers plan ahead for set-up and tear-down, which really helps, while others are completely unaware of the fact that 100 trucks and vans will be arriving at one time, all aiming for 2 doorways. 

I've always thought that *everyone* knows better than to dawdle once a vehicle is in place, but yesterday as we were trying to load up, a friend who volunteered with an org. for the afternoon, and hasn't been in that line-up of tired, wet, frustrated vendors who just want to go home, stopped by on her way out to chat.  It suddenly dawned on me that just maybe the people who don't know better, just don't know better.  Maybe they AREN'T just doing it because they think they're more important than anyone else!

When you get there, it's pretty simple.  Pull up, unload, move vehicle.  Bam.  Over the years we've acquired a couple helpful pieces of equipment - like small hand trucks - that fold up and fit easily in the vehicle. 
Remember to pack so that the hand truck(s) can be pulled out and loaded without too much trouble.  No need to double the lifting, right?  We have all of our stuff in stacking bins, so that all gets UNpacked first, then tables, tablecovering bin, and finally the tent and chairs.
Consider the order you'll be needing the items AS YOU PACK AND UNPACK THE VEHICLE.

To me, packing to go home is more difficult.  There are the plants you've purchased, probably some trash from fair food, extra shoes, and multiple day festivals just have more and more debris.  So here's how we do that - unless it's raining or a severe thunderstorm is on the horizon, in which case all bets are off...
About 2 hours before the end of most shows, things have slowed down. 
- We start looking around and collecting any trash that needs to go out.
- Next is gathering anything very important.  A note with a name/email that needs to be addressed from home, subscription forms (for me), wholesale orders (for my sister), and stuff like that gets stuck into our baskets.  We each take a large basket.  Into those go our purses, phones, special paperwork, extra shoes... anything that we want to keep track of and if the car isn't unloaded that night, the basket can go inside when we get home.
- Then we begin to consolidate.  For instance, I want all of the incense items in one container, and NOT with a tea or anything that might absorb those scents.  So all of the incense, incense burners, charcoals, etc., are combined in one place.  Sometimes we'll have duplicate displays if we have an L-shape, and we put stuff together.  We're still open.  Still doing business, but just puttering.  Maybe replacing delicate items into boxes, but still open.
- We pull out the empty containers and begin packing.  Carefully.  It's silly to rush too much (unless there is a storm approaching) and ruin items.  A few extra minutes can save a lot of money.  Stack the containers.
--- At this point if there are 2 of you, one can go for the car.
- Fold tablecloths and any displays. 
- Fold up tables.
- Take down the tent.

NOW.  If you're alone, go get the car.  Otherwise, it has probably just arrived.  You can throw that stuff inside in about 2 minutes. 
You haven't inconvenienced anyone.  It's actually EASIER to stack it first, and then pack the car, since the tent and tables need to go in first, and next year when you show up there's a chance your neighbors will smile and wave.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

First Potpourri

A little while ago my mother bought me a beautiful bouquet of roses, daisies, baby's breath, and other flowers for my birthday. Soon after I decided to let them dry so I could make potpourri for my new home. It is definitely not the perfect potpourri but I must say it is incredibly special to me.

Here is what I did.

Cut flower heads from stems and place on cookie sheet with parchment paper

Place flowers far enough away from one another so they dry evenly

Allow to dry for one to two weeks

Once dry mix with orris root or other fixative (patchouli, oak moss, or benzoin)
I used who but there is also powder or kernels. If you're using whole use one or two inch pieces depending on your batch. I made two small batches so I used half inch pieces for each batch. If using kernels you will want a teaspoon per ounce of potpourri.

Spritz potpourri with a mixture of 10 drops essential oil (I used lavender) and one ounce distilled water. 
Be sure to get plenty on the orris root or fixative so it will hold the scent longer.

And voila! Find a pretty bowl and enjoy!

Monday, May 02, 2016

The flaming chicken

So last night I cooked my first fire cider chicken all by myself. It was much easier than I thought and it is absolutely delicious. Here are my before and after pictures.



In case you want to try it yourself, here is a quick recipe.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

1 whole chicken
About 2 - 3 C of fire cider discards
2 C water or soup stock (I used veggie)
Veggies (optional)

Set your oven to about 300 degrees fahrenheit and place the bird in the oven for about three hours.

Pull out the chicken and let sit for about an hour to let it cool. Then begin pulling the meat from the bone. Afterward you can serve or store in your refrigerator.