Friday, September 30, 2016

15 years of deadlines and commitments

We just gave the go-ahead for the Nov/Dec issue.  It is the issue that ends the 15th year of The Essential Herbal.
One of my proudest accomplishments is getting every single one of those 90 issues out on schedule.  Every. One. 

First issue - I had NOTHING to do with that cover!  There were partners for the first issue only.
For the last 11 years, that was with the major assistance of Maryanne on lay-out who was also willing to stick to a strict schedule.

When Molly first started pitching in a couple years ago, I took 2 (because we put out a magazine every 2 months) generic calendar months, and outlined what happens when.  I thought that it would be 5 or 10 days that had entries, but was surprised to see that there were a couple major things that have to happen every week.  After so many years, it was automatic, and didn't even seem like work anymore.
I know my small business friends know exactly what it means to make this happen.  We love our work, but there's no denying that there are trade-offs (OTHER than benefits, regular hours, and guaranteed pay).  For instance, there is no "second shift."  If you don't get it done, you keep going until it is done.  Nobody can pick up where you left off.

In the earliest years, it meant that I packed Molly off for a weekend at her father's, and spent the next 48 hours rolling around on the floor with scissors, tape, glue, and the scent of fear.  It would be finished when she got home, and on Monday morning it would go to work (at the then printer) with me.  I'd print, bind, and trim it, and then take it home to address, wafer seal, and stamp. 
Eventually there were enough subscribers for a bulk mail permit, and then I'd do the sorting and banding and all that was entailed there.
 It means that during most of those years, business trips did double duty as what we semi-jokingly called vacations.
It means that in sometimes dire circumstances, you still have that eye on the calendar.  We lost 2 members of the family, and still look back wondering how we managed.  I was the primary caregiver for one of them.  He'd designed one of the covers, and on the day he died, we returned to the house to find boxes of that magazine had arrived and were waiting for us on the porch. 

 Before we had Carey working on the covers, they were a real challenge.  Another very memorable cover experience was making and then photographing a holiday swag on the barn - while a nasty little rooster continuously attached us.
On the other side of the coin reside so many wonderful things!
Although Molly gave up doing a lot of activities with me growing up, she's learned to forage.  She knows a lot about herbs and some pretty cool herb folk.  She's learning how to make soap, all about attending and vending at herb festivals, and she got from her mother and aunt the same thing we got from our mother - an understanding of the dedication required to run a business.

I've met amazing people who have been generous and kind with their information and writing.  We know all kinds of cool folks.  We're still learning and expect to continue that as long as our senses continue to function.

Flex time... we know what we have to do, and if we think we can get it done AND spend a couple days during the week goofing off, then we do that.
A friend just visited for a couple of days, and by doing work ahead and a little each morning, I was able to hang out with her and really enjoy it.  Of course a lot of people think that's just how our days are.  Maryanne also has a business, so we help each other, and it means we have to have TWO businesses done ahead.  We often run into people who think that because we make time for them, our days are just wide open.  Not so.  Just takes a little planning, and we can be flexible. 
Naturally, it also means that we can work in our jammies.
This magazine mails on the 10th of the month.  Then the shop copies and writer copies go out from here.  We'll take a few days off when that's done (although that's usually when we get bombarded with soap orders in my sister's wholesale soap business...), and off we'll go on our 16th year.

This winter we'll start work on the 3rd five year compilation, but it will probably be a year before it is finished.  It's a huge job, and we have a few other, smaller projects in the pipeline first.
Just for the moment, though, I'm feeling like something has been well completed.

If you'd like to subscribe, check out some back issues, or get any of our books or products, visit our website -

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Herb to Know - Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare/ Fennel 

6 or 7 years ago I was gifted with a massive quantity of files from Karen Hegre.  Many people will remember Karen from the great Yahoo! lists that she ran on many different aspects of herbalism.  Unfortunately, she had become quite ill with Alzheimer's disease.  She asked me to publish as much as I deemed usable, and passed away in November of 2013.  The problem is that I can only assume that these files that were gathered from her lists were contributed by many list participants.  In those days, list owners considered posts on "their" lists to be their property ~ yay for the sketchy, gray areas of the brand new world wide web!  This is from that vast collection.
Fennel is a perennial (zones 6-9) grown as an annual in most places.
Fennel gets two to 5 feet tall, and has 6 inch wide umbels of tiny yellow
flowers which appear in midsummer.  The feathery, blue-green leaves look
remarkably like those of dill.

Fennel leaves and seeds have a mild licorice or anise flavor and fragrance.
A sweet, aromatic, diuretic herb that relieves digestive problems, increases
milk flow, relaxes spasms, and reduces inflammation.

Sow seeds directly in the garden a week or two before your last spring frost
date.South of zone 5, you can also plant fennel seeds in the fall!
Plant in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade in southern areas.
Fennel requires moderately fertile, well-drained,moist soil....but....will
not tolerate overwatering.
Space plants six inches apart.
Largely pest-free, but prone to root rot in soggy soils.
Fennel can be container grown.

Leaves are picked for use at any time during the growing season;  leaf bases
are most tender in spring.  Stems for use in cooking are cut as required.
Roots are lifted in autumn and dried for use in decoctions.  Unripe seeds
are collected in summer for using fresh.  Ripe seeds are harvested before
they fall by cutting the seed heads and upturning into a paper bag for
drying;  they are used whole, ground, or distilled for oil.
Hang stems of leaves upside down to air dry.....and you can freeze leave in
ice cubes.

Culinary;  Fennel leaves are minced into salads or over fish, pork, eggs,
cheese, beans, rice and cabbage-family vegetables.  The seeds are added to
Asian dishes, sauerkraut, fish, lentils, breads, butter, and cheese spreads.
**Fennel's flavor fades quickly when heated, so add it to recipes just
before serving.
You can combine with extra-virgin olive oil or saffron or canola oil for
flavored cooking oil.

Medicinal:  A fennel infusion aids digestion and reduces colic in infants,
and is used as a mouthwash or gargle for gum disease and sore throat.

Cosmetic:  You can use fennel seeds to exfoliate dead skin and refine pores.

Economic:  Oil is used in food flavorings, toothpastes, soaps and air

Arrangements:  Use fresh fennel flowers in floral arrangements.
Fennel in the garden helps to repel pesky slugs and snails.

***  Fennel seeds contain a volatile oil that produces an allergic
reaction in some people who touch them!!!!***
The lacy leaves of fennel are a beautiful addition to the perennial border.
Clip a few stems and mix them with nasturtiums and calendula to create an
attractive and edible centerpiece for the table.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Natural Products Expo East '16

I have to first explain that here in my part of the world, something like 15 or 20 years ago, Whole Foods found that we were not educated or wealthy enough to support a store.  So we have never had them, Trader Joe's, or even a Wegman's.  Next year we'll have WF and Wegman's.  As time went on, we found that we have plenty of great healthy food options available.  I hope they are not injured financially by these giants.

But I digress.  Yesterday we set out for the Expo, first driving to Hunt Valley, MD, and jumping on the Light Rail which took us directly across the street from the convention center, thereby allowing us to skip the city traffic AND the parking hassle and expense.

This was Molly's first Expo.  Maryanne and I attended the first east Expo when we were just preparing to open our fulltime shop back in the early 90's.  People starting businesses since the world wide web came into being have NO idea how difficult it was to find new and innovative products back then.  The only way was to travel to shows.  We'd attended several gift type shows looking for "our" products, but weren't finding the right stuff.  The Expo almost brought us to tears!  Aisles and aisles of hippy families with their own products.  Larger businesses with tinctures, essential oils, supplements, and incenses.  It was Nirvana.

Just a couple years later, it was changed.  The atmosphere is much different.  Few and far between are the hippy families. But so goes the world, I suppose.  Just happy to have been there in the beginning.

As we approached the center, there was music, and one vendor selling a joint supplement based on turmeric (HUGE this year, and in many products, beverages, foods, etc.) and collegen had people in gold lame jumpsuits dancing energetically.  It was an interesting welcome.  Unfortunately, we didn't take nearly enough pictures.

Inside, there are glass cases filled with tiny displays from many of the vendors, to serve as an appetizer. 
There are 3 floors of vendor booths.  Between us, we hit them all, and walked most of them.  Molly did most of the second floor herself, and we did the top and bottom.  I am glad we're not stocking an herb shop right now.  They didn't really have much that would have interested us for that, although there were 2 or 3 things I might still want for the website.  It is about 90% food and drinks.

Speaking of which, drinks are really, really big.  Mostly water flavored or with nutrients or probiotics added, we sampled at least a dozen.  Some of them were pretty good.  The blackberry chia was tasty, but we couldn't help calling it "goo."  My favorite of them all was Caribe.
A TINY sampling of the drink companies.  There was also an excellent natural soda company, but I missed getting their paperwork.
 We spoke to the people at Pop Lab, who gave us little popsicles made with fresh fruit.  I had pineapple basil.  It was delicious, but reminded me of when we first started adding patchouli to the patchouli soap and were informed that it was sticking to our brother's skin.  Less, or finer bits of basil would be better.

Next we wandered off to talk to the people from the Wisconsin Ginseng Co-op.  There, I learned that Chinese ginseng is being brought to the US and then re-shipped back, claiming to be American Ginseng.  Because of that, they have a seal that lets you know.
Display of ginseng roots and various value added products at the Wisconsin Co-op booth.
 Wisconsin is (I think) the largest American producer of cultivated ginseng.
Later, at a different ginseng business, a man in a giant ginseng costume kissed my hand.  Another missed photo op.  It's not every day ... Of course we didn't get pictures of the 2 (separate) men in banana suits either, so there's that.
A variety of manuka honey candies.

The people from Jelly Belly were there with their new organic line.  There, we discussed the fact that, at 4 calories per bean, it was almost a negative calorie food... like celery!  We left laughing, but I have to say that the new line of jelly beans aren't as good.  Kind of gritty.

I also want to give a shout-out to Superseedz, a gourmet pumpkin seed company.  The man who was passing out packet of seeds found a way to flirt sweetly without being obnoxious, and at my age that's worth something.  Really tasty dry roasted pepitas, too!
There were too many cold brewed coffees to sample (Molly said they were overly milked so you couldn't taste the coffee), and there was chocolate in many forms everywhere.  We steered away just out of habit.  I'm sure it was great.  Those two items were ubiquitous at the show.  Teas, particularly matcha were also everywhere.
Some of my favorite places.  Chimes has several new flavors of ginger treats.  There go my teeth!

I found it very interesting.  There were a few booths dedicated to new kinds of sweeteners - especially monk fruit.  There were a couple of companies devoted to Jackfruit because of its nutritional and health benefits.  It is prepared mostly as a savory snack (that we saw).

Molly's impression:  "Definitely interesting, all the paleo, gluten free, organic, sustainable natural products.  I thought it was really neat that they were inclusive to everyone's needs but also loved that there were still simple products as well.  As much as I loved the grass fed, organic empanadas I was thrilled to pick up a regular black coffee and bagel.  Oh and the crackers made with cricket flour - Chirps - were pretty good!"
Maryanne (and I as well) was sad to see that it was now almost entirely a grocery show.

So aside from the stack of bright new tote bags (and my old ones really have started to wear out...), I have some pretty nice swag to wade through. 

A truly fascinating way to spend the day! Without exception, we were greeted in a friendly and welcoming manner.
Just a week or so earlier, I'd spent the train ride between Philadelphia and Atlantic City chatting with a man from Cocoatown who was on his way to the Fancy Food convention there.  I'd hoped to see him or the company at the Expo, but I may have missed them if they were there.
We were so glad to be able to get on the train back to the car, rather than schlepping with our bags back to some distant parking lot.  Molly was asleep almost as soon as we were in the car. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

all pines are conifers, but all conifers are not pines

This time of year, people start writing and talking about "pine" trees, and the corner of my one eye starts to twitch a little bit.  We live on a Christmas Tree Farm, so it can become a huge part of the conversation some days.  Someone might call and ask if we have any 12 - 15 foot Pines.  We think they're actually asking for a specific thing and reply accordingly.

They get here and looking at what they've requested:
"Oh no!  I didn't want that!  We always get Pines with short, soft needles." 
Ahhh... that would probably be a Fir tree.

or, "We always get those pretty pale blue Pines,"
Uh huh... Spruce.


Sometimes they want Cedar (aka Juniper).

And then there's Hemlock.  There are other conifers and evergreens too.  I'm just thinking of the ones here, and the ones most often written about as the holidays approach, and for each of the last 15 years, I have had at least one discussion with a writer.  They don't always go well.  When using plants medicinally, it is really important to understand this distinction.

These are all conifers (cone bearing) and evergreen.  They are not all Pines.



Broccoli is a vegetable - not all vegetables are broccoli.  Nobody calls spinach broccoli.
Tinsel is a decoration - not all decorations are tinsel.
A cat is a pet - not all pets are cats.
See how this works?


Monday, September 12, 2016

My attempt at meal prepping

by Molly Sams

Like many of you I have a serious addiction to Pinterest. I love the seemingly infinite amount of sources for everything from DIY projects to what would be the perfect birthday gift for your dog. Sometimes I am utterly amazed by what I can find on this site and I am often inspired to try to learn and do more because of it. One of my latest interests has been meal prepping. It is a sensible and common practice that involves cooking and creating your meals for the week ahead of time. It has been done for decades now but many Pinsters have made it into an art form.

I noticed many were becoming interested with meal prepping when the ideas started popping up daily on my board. It was crazy to see how, almost overnight, people were making these customizable, nutritional, and beautiful meals that could be stored throughout the week or month without losing color or flavor. Now I knew meal prepping had been done decades before Pinterest. My mother still bakes breakfast muffins once a month, cooks large delicious meals to eat for a week, and creates stunning to-go meals for when she is traveling or will be away from home all day. So I knew even before Pinterest it was a smart and fun way to make your breakfast, lunch, and dinner ahead of time while still having plenty of room to play and experiment. Now I just had to figure out a way to make it my own!

Since I have a small kitchen I'm usually prepping in my dining room. 

I figured simple and comfortable was best while I started out on my culinary adventure. I decided I would make chili (one of my favorite staples from childhood) and a veggie curry. I know it sounds intense but both are much more simple than it sounds. Here is what I used for each dish.

Picture is fuzzier than I would like but you can see all the goodies!


1 large can of dark kidney beans
1 large can of black beans
½ can of chickpeas
Half of a red onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 C of frozen corn
2 bell peppers
½ green pepper
½ C lentils
1 C frozen red peppers
1 pinch of parsley
1 smoke salt
Plenty of black pepper
And even more chili powder
2 C water

The curry ended up in the crockpot today. I cannot wait to see the results!

Veggie Curry
½ can of chickpeas
Half a red onion
2 potatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 C frozen peas
1 C frozen corn
2 bell peppers
½ green pepper
½ C lentils
1 C frozen carrots
Plenty of creative curry powder
1 jar of curry paste
1 C water

After everything was in its place I began cooking yellow rice (my personal favorite) and then cleaned up the kitchen and dining room (my usual prep station). It was fun, interesting, and did not require a lot of work on my part. I spent about 20 minutes chopping and gathering ingredients and now I go to the stew pot full of chili once in a while to give it a stir. This was the perfect time to assess my Tupperware situation. With about nine small lunch containers, two large soup containers and two even larger casserole containers I knew I would be ready to go. Here is the finished product!

Perfectly packaged and ready for the office!

As always the chili is delicious (thanks, Mom!) and the curry is flavorful and colorful. I’m glad I decided to give this a try and hopefully I can make a habit of it. Let me know what you guys think and how you prepare for the workweek ahead!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Lemon Herbs

 As Summer winds down, we start to collect the herbs that we may have allowed to grow during the hot months of July and August.  Lemon Balm, Thyme, and Verbena are grown here each year, and we usually get in some lemon scented geraniums.  Sometimes we have pineapple sage or a basil (we really love lime basil), but so far we haven't grown lemon grass.  Maybe next year...
lemon verbena with blossoms

In any case, it seemed like a good time to share this article from The Essential Herbal (Mar/Apr '11) because it has several great ideas and recipes to use these fragrant and luscious herbs.

Barbara Steele
Alloway Creek Gardens and Herb Farm

Lemon Herbs and Other “Fruity” Herb Flavors

The following herbs have a strong lemon fragrance and have culinary uses.
1. Lemon Balm-use fresh or frozen for best flavor. Strong mosquito repellent
2. Lemon Basil-Mrs. Burn’s Lemon and Lime Basil
3. Lemon Scented Geraniums-Pelargonium crispum, Mabel Grey, Rober’s Lemon
4. Lemon Grass-Cymbopogon citrates-Thai recipes, teas, potpourri
5. Lemon Thymes-variety include Doone Valley, Thymus citriodorus, ‘Lemon Frost
6. Lemon Verbena-Aloysia triphylla-extremely fragrant-culinary, aromatherapy,  potpourri, teas
7. Pineapple Sage-a “fruity-flavored” herb that combines well with the lemon herbs.

Lemon flavored herbs are great for flavoring cookies, vinegar, teas, punches, jellies, tea breads, chicken and fish dishes and adding scent to potpourri blends.  Here are a few recipes that you might want to try!

Lemon Herb Cheese Dip-12 servings
8 oz. cottage cheese
3 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened                            
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (1 tsp. dried)            
1 ½ Tbsp. chopped fresh chives (1 ½ tsp. dried)     
2 tsp. fresh lemon thyme (2/3 tsp. dried)
lemon thyme in bloom

2 tsp. chopped fresh lemon basil (2/3 tsp. dried)
Blend cottage cheese, add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients, cover and refrigerate several hours.  Serve with crackers or fresh vegetables.

Lemon or Lime Basil Vinaigrette                           
1 clove garlic, minced                                               
2 Tbsp. Lime or Lemon Basil chopped                      
2 Tbsp. Chives, chopped                                            
1 shallot or spring onion, minced                             
1 tsp. Dijon mustard                                                   
1/3-1/2 cup of white wine vinegar                              
Ground black pepper and salt (optional) to taste         
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mash together garlic, chives, and shallot until a paste is formed.  Add to food processor along with the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Mix well, drizzle the oil in a steady stream while the processor is running until the ingredients are fully emulsified.

Lemon-Rosemary Butter
2 sticks butter-room temperature
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tsp. fresh lemon thyme or lemon verbena finely chopped.
Combine-refrigerate- may be wrapped and frozen.  Nice on muffins, steamed vegetables, and tea breads.

Lemon Verbena Scones
2 cups all purpose flour                                                 
1 ½ rolled oats                                                              
2 tsp. baking powder                                                     
½ tsp. baking soda                                                         -
½ tsp. salt                                                                       
¼ cup brown sugar                                                        
¼ cold butter                                                                  
¼ cup finely chopped fresh lemon verbena leaves       
1 egg, beaten                                                                  
½ cup plain yogurt                                                           -
¼ cup milk                                                                     
 Preheat oven to 425degreesF.  In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.  Cut in butter  with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the lemon verbena leaves; mix until combined.  Make a well  in center of flour mixture.  Add the egg, yogurt and milk.  Stirring  well.  Mix in with the flour mixture to form a soft dough.  Coat a 12” cast iron skillet with cooking spray.  With floured hands pat the the dough into a circle. Cut into wedges.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown

Citrus Cooler*
1 small handful fresh lemon balm leaves
1 gal.  Orange juice
1 bottle (2 liter) citrus soda-Sprite, Seven-Up
Fresh Lemon Balm leaves.
Rub lemon balm leaves between hands to release the flavor.  Put in bottom of punch bowl, pour in orange juice.  Let stand, covered, 1-2 hours.  Remove lemon balm; add citrus soda and ice.  Float fresh lemon balm leaves on top.  Makes about 1 ½ gallons
*This recipe is from Maggie Keeler, herbalist and friend.

lemon scented rose geranium

Luscious Lemon Potpourri
 Dried peel of one lemon
2 cups dried lemon verbena leaves
1 cup dried Lemon Scented Geranium
1 cup dried chamomile flowers
¼ cup cinnamon bark crushed
1 cup dried calendula petals
1 tsp. orris root powder
2-3 drops lemon verbena essential oil (optional)
Peel lemon and dry peel for about 2 weeks.  Mix all the ingredients together.  Seal in a tin and put in a warm place for about 2-3 weeks.  The essential oil, if used,  should by added to the orris root powder, which “fixes” the scent.  Additional oil may be added if scent fades.

Friday, September 02, 2016

My stamp box may be obsolete...

For over 10 years I've used a wooden box with hand-made dividers to keep my postage stamps organized.  It took me a few years to realize that a cellophane bag full of all different denominations of stamps was very inefficient.

This morning I was getting renewal reminder postcards ready for subscribers who needed them, and realized that there weren't enough postcard stamps BUT I could combine some others.  Normally I'd resist using up the others, but things have changed around here.

Sometime in the winter, the USPS changed their rates and in the process deleted the ability to access the Regional shipping boxes.  Shipping costs are a pretty big deal, and we try very hard to make them reasonable.  The regional boxes can be less than half of other options if we are judicious with them, so to have that disappear without notice caused a small panic.
By the end of that day, we signed onto another shipping program ( that charges a monthly fee, but also provides a commercial rate so that it's actually cheaper than the USPS site was.
In the meantime, the post office closest to the office almost never stocked the stamps we needed.  Some days we'd visit 3 P.O.'s before we found everything.  Imagine our surprise and delight to discover that our new program allows us to print First Class postage!  I don't think postcards or single ounce envelopes, but that's fine.
So once again, something that was an unpleasant shock turned into a very good thing.

Speaking of good things, this sale on incense and herb bead supplies runs until next Tuesday!

 Have a great holiday weekend!