Monday, October 30, 2017

Black Strap Syrups

Black Strap Syrups 
Adrian White ~
originally published in The Essential Herbal Magazine, Jul/Aug '14

Spring time does not have to be all about "spring cleaning" for our bodies; nor does winter time have to be about fighting off the sporadic illness with acute cold remedies.  Year-round, whether it be spring, summer, fall or winter, we can also focus on keeping our immune system on its toes.  There are several immune-boosting tonic herbs out there you can turn to, like the popular Reishi, Astragalus and Licorice, while pulling out your plants high in Vitamin C like Elder, Rose hips and Sumac berry give you an added edge.  But generally, it is good to get as much nutrition in as you can.  Some of us struggle with getting enough of any vitamins and minerals in our diet, especially Vitamin D, which we principally receive through sunlight, or magnesium which is painfully absent in a large part of our western diets.  As someone of the above ilk, and also tending towards the more wan and iron-depleted “Vata” disposition (and also being pretty poor), this is something I have to think about seriously, whether it’s spring or winter.  For people like us, this can drastically effect our immune systems as well as our sense of general well-being and health.  Really, we can take all that we can get.

What can we depend on, from season to season, when herb availability fluctuates and some are growing at one time, and fast asleep at others?  How can we keep our spring-tonic and nutritious herbs with us no matter the climate or weather?  Some may suggest tinctures or other preparations, but truth be told, alcohol extracts do not succeed in macerating and preserving minerals as well as we would like to.  Vinegar aceta have their virtues, but still fall short.  This is why I am fond of herbal syrups—and not your average syrups, but Black Strap Molasses syrups.
Not all herbal syrups have to be cough syrups, and honey has been found to be one of the best mediums for holding and preserving vitamins and minerals.  Not to mention– honey (raw or organic) in small tablespoon doses is high in its own mineral content.  Think of it this way: instead of making your big pot of Nettle tea and trying to down the wonderful green sludge throughout your entire day, you instead make a more concentrated infusion and fix it into a syrup.  Then you are just taking that amount as a tablespoon supplement, bit by bit, throughout your day.  You can mix it into your coffeeor tea.  Also– it is sweet!

But what is so great about adding Black Strap Molasses into the mix?  Well, it is one of the highest sources of minerals, is affordable, and has a very long perishability.  In even teaspoon amounts, you can get a substantial part of your mineral intake in: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese, Selenium, and Copper are found in amazing amounts.  The downside to Black Strap?  I am sure if you have tasted molasses, you would understand what the downside is.  Some love its taste, but to the vast majority, molasses is overwhelming to the taste and smell, which can be discouraging to so many who may sorely need it.
Which is why I have come up with a general “Herbal Black Strap Syrup” recipe.  It takes away the intensity of the molasses, bringing it a sweeter palatability; but it also allows you to infuse your syrup with herbs chock full of vitamins which the molasses does not represent.  The product you get is an herbal medicine that is full of Vitamins AND minerals (sometimes more), lasts throughout the year, tastes good, and is quite convenient to use whenever you wish to take it.  If you already have your own herbal syrup recipe, well, it’s quite simple—craft your syrup, then add in Black Strap Molasses in at the end.  I will also provide my own recipe for starters at the end of this article.

IDEAL BLACK-STRAP HERBS.  Think of any highly nutritious herb, and you can easily craft it into this beautiful syrup.  Practically any classic spring tonic herb may apply, but the possibilities (and combinations) are many, and quite thrilling to think about!

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica, Urtica urens).  
The feared and overlooked super-food of our time is perhaps the most ideal candidate for a black syrup.  There is a big stigma on this plant because of its name and its sting, and yet Nettle’s nutritional value has been compared to that of spinach, kale, and most seaweeds and kelps.  It grows everywhere in thick clumps, and yet we struggle with poor diets in this country!  Nettles are the highest land-bound source of protein from wild plants in the U.S., but also incredibly high in iron, calcium, vitamins A and B, iodine and magnesium.  Coupled with black strap, you have here an herbal remedy that will fix most nutrient deficiencies.  Practically every base is covered, except Vitamin B12.  To boot, a black nettle syrup helps with spring respiratory infections, allergies, and even minor asthma issues.

Chickweed (Stellaria media).  A popular spring tonic, Chickweed has its own nutritional assets to offer.  Calcium, potassium, Vitamin C and Iron are fairly plentiful in this little herb.  It can’t compare to Nettles but it makes up for it with the ability for cleansing after a long winter.  To fix this one into a black syrup, Chickweed must be cold-infused a day or two beforehand, juiced, or made into a succus.  I prefer juicing it, straining it out, putting the infusion on a low heat (lower than simmer) and then adding the honey and black strap until it blends to dark emerald-green perfection.

Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus).  Traditionally, the root of this plant was thought to be high in iron, but this has since been debunked.  It is still arguable that it contains a marked amount of nutrients, since it has been used traditionally to treat anemia for so long, and with success.  Most of all, it helps the gut assimilate nutrition exceptionally well.  Yellow Dock is also an alterative and spring-cleaning herb that corrects imbalances of the digestive system, and it will certainly ensure that what’s available in the black strap has the most beneficial impact it can have.  Perhaps it would be most suitable for those who need nutrition but lack the digestive strength to fully absorb it!

Burdock (Arctium lappa).  Burdock is well-known for how perfectly it lends itself to syrups and glycerites.  This makes it the ideal candidate for a black syrup, having many significant nutrient sources such as Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Manganese.  Combined with a more nutritious herb, you’ll have quite the daily supplement.  It is also a favored spring tonic, especially for liver and bowel problems, but has been known to clear up acne and other skin issues.

Horsetail (Equisitem arvense).  This ancient and ubiquitous plant grows practically anywhere where marshy, watery habitats can be found.  Why it may be so desirable for a syrup is its availability, as well as high amounts of minerals not found in abundance in other plant sources: Silica especially, but also Vitamin E and several others.  The more young and tender it is, the more nutritious.  Combined with Nettles, a Horsetail black syrup would cover a lot of your nutritional bases and be incredibly helpful for seasonal allergies, arthritis and joint issues!

Medicinal Mushrooms!  Incorporating medicinal mushrooms successfully into a blackstrap syrup may be a bit more for the advanced herbalist.  What needs to be said, though, is that many mushrooms are not only medicinal, but also have amazing amounts of nutrients consistently lacking from our diets!  Notable mushrooms of this ilk are shiitakes, oysters, lion’s mane, turkey tails, reishis, chaga, even morels and boletes.  Vitamin B6, Vitamin D, Protein, Fiber, Zinc, and Magnesium can be found in significant amounts, some more so than others.  I was surprised by the high amounts of iron found in most gourmet varieties!  Some people just cannot get over the taste, or texture, of mushrooms, in spite of what they have to offer.  Which makes a robust black syrup perfect.  On a more remedial level, these mushrooms have proven to help against viruses, HIV, Cancer/Post-Chemo, Allergies, while boosting immune function.

Getting the full benefit of a mushroom black syrup is more difficult than herbal syrups made with plants.  You must double-extract medicinal mushrooms, as all the different constituents yield themselves to different mediums.  The typical double-extraction method states that you must tincture one half of your mushrooms in a high-proof alcohol, then decoct the other half—there are recipes for double-extracting, so go looking for one.  While doing the decoction portion of the recipe, simply turn that into your syrup!  After adding black strap molasses and letting the syrup cool a little bit, then you slowly add your mushroom tincture half, and you have your mushroom syrup.

Finally- the recipe itself!  I use Stinging Nettles most often with this, so it will be my main example.

Black Nettle Syrup
What You’ll Need:
•    Dried (or Fresh) Stinging Nettles (at least 1 cup OK)
•    20-30 oz. honey (preferably organic; raw is ok)
•    15-20 oz. Black Strap Molasses
•    Water
•    A few hours of your time
-Fill a small to medium pot with water on stove top.  Bring water to a gentle simmer, then add your nettles to create initial “infusion”.  Cover.  Let this go for a time, until water is a very dark green.  You can leave it to simmer, or just leave it on low heat.  The sludgier looking the better (more vitamins/minerals).  You may add more water if too much evaporates, and infuse as long as you prefer.  It may take a while.
-Once you have created your desired infusion, strain out herb from the infusion and put in a new clean pot.  Add your honey and bring up to a simmer again.
-At this point, you are “simmering down” your syrup to the consistency you like.   This may also take  a while.  Stir a bit here and there if you want.  Some syrups can be runnier with more water content, others can be simmered down more to be a bit thicker.  It just depends up on the length of simmering.  A couple notes: syrups are runnier at a higher temperature, so it will be a bit thicker when it is cooled down.  Also, you have yet to add Black Strap Molasses, which may also add thickness.
-Final step: once you have simmered down to your desired syrup consistency, add the Molasses to the mixture and stir while it is still hot.  Let cool.
-Add cooled Black Nettle Syrup to desired container, preferably glass and amber-tinted.  Make sure to store syrup in fridge when not in use.

Friday, October 27, 2017

All Hollow’s Eve: More than just Amok! Amok! Amok!

From Sept/Oct '15 issue, The Essential Herbal Magazine
Molly Sams
The spookiest day of the year is right around the corner and it has me wondering about the roots of the celebration and how to enjoy the festivities in a more traditional way – sans human sacrifices, of course. Luckily I was able to borrow "A Witch’s Brew" by Adelma Simmons from Susanna Reppert and found plenty of fun crafts to keep traditions alive and the witches at bay.
Halloween was created from a more ancient druid holiday called Samhain where it was said the more mischievous and malevolent spirits would be allowed on earth for one night of revelry. This inspired many protective and preventative traditions that we still use today as decoration for Halloween.
Turnips were the vegetable to carve before pumpkins.
This photo courtesy of Yahoo News.
Wreaths and swags were often placed on doors to keep wicked spirits, witches, and other spooky creatures from entering the home. The ones we use now often mirror ones of old in design, herbs used, and even meanings (depending on the home). Elder, alder, and mountain ash branches and twigs were used as the base for the wreath and then decorated with ferns, bayberries, rowan berries, valerian, vervain, and even yew berries to make the wreaths stand out. These wreaths were thought to help or hinder witches depending on their intention and practice.

If you have little ones who are helping you decorate, corn dollies can be a great craft for them. Corn dollies have been hung from ceilings for hundreds of years and can add playfulness to the holiday. To create more traditional dollies use blue and purple (witches’ favorite colors) instead of the regular orange and black. Don’t be afraid to use other materials and colors, however. Dollies are supposed to be adorned with fun fabrics and designs. Even a little glitter can’t hurt!
Full instructions 
If you want to adorn more than just your home for the season, decorating your garden or creating a “Witches Garden” can be fun for the whole family. Witches gardens differ if they are for a white witch, black witch, or the devil himself. Devil’s gardens were actually a tradition that started from farmers. By giving the devil a portion of farmland that remained wild it would keep him away from the crops and the home - giving the devil his due.
Black witches would use plants for poison or other dastardly deeds. If you decide to plant a black witch’s garden or decorate yours with such plants be sure to keep plants away from pets and to wait until your children are at least twelve so they will understand why they cannot consume or use the plants. Always be sure your younger family members tend to the garden with supervision as well. Traditionally bad witches’ gardens contained malicious plants such as deadly nightshade, daffodil bulbs (poisonous to ingest), rue (a skin irritant), and several elder trees, said to harbor witches and having poisonous leaves, branches, and roots.  The garden may also have nettles, a stinging and irritating plant, and lily of the valley which is also called "poisonous root."
Some of these plants can also be found in the white witch’s garden as well. While they may be in her garden they are used for good instead of evil. You should still supervise children or pets while they are in the garden to avoid sickness. Unlike a black witch’s garden, however there are plenty of great herbs you may already use in your home. Plants such as yarrow, borage, plantain, St. John’s wort, and elecampane can help your family throughout the year as well as add some festive color, aroma, and structure to your fall decorations.  With both the black and white witch gardens be sure to put a cauldron inside, with mullein plants on the four corners to light – this way the witch can always see what’s brewin’.

After the festivities are over be sure to harvest properly. Always ask and thank your elder plants before and after pruning and harvesting and set out a loaf of fresh bread for the witches so they will not spoil your harvest.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


“The World’s Costliest Spice – Saffron”

Susanna Reppert
Previously published in The Essential Herbal Magazine
Almost all cultures have included Saffron in their cuisine.  From the ancient Phoenicians to the Pennsylvania Dutch, saffron has always been the most costly and desirable of the seasonings.  Spanish paella or arroz con pollo, the fisherman’s bouillabaisse, Swedish saffron buns, Indian curries, African couscous, Italian rissoto, chicken potpie and gravies, fish sauces and coloring for butter and cheeses are just a few of its uses in international cookery. 

Commercially cultivated in Span, saffron can be grown in all temperate climates.  It is a fall blooming crocus (Crocus sativus) which is planted in spring or summer to bloom next fall.  The harvest is the little orange stigmas, three per flower, which accounts for its costliness.  More than 200,000 stigmas make a pound of saffron , all laboriously picked by hand.
Once the herb of only wealthy, thrifty Pennsylvania Dutch ensure their supply of this distinctive seasoning by growing their own.  Saffron is easily grown in any sunny well drained garden where it enjoys an occasional feeding of bonemeal and compost and soon forms a colony of little productive bulbs. 
Plant the corms two inches apart and three to five inches deep in average well drained soil but – a word to the wise – mark the spot!  The bulbs are dormant most of the time and vulnerable to over planting or inadvertent weeding.    When the small lavender crocus like flowers appear (they open only in sun) harvest the orange stigmas, air dry them on a sheet of white paper and then store your precious saffron in a tightly lidded dark glass bottle. 

Used in Biblical times as seasoning, medicine and dye, in ancient Rome, Greece and the Orient Saffron was also a perfume.  Aromatic, hot and pungent to the taste, today it colors cakes, and confections golden yellow or adds distinctive flavor to exotic dishes.  The Arabs believed that saffron kept in the house would drive away dreaded lizards.  In the middle ages, adulterers of saffron where beheaded for their crime.  It has been written that Henry VIII so craved saffron that he forebade the ladies of his court to use the rare spice to dye their golden hair.  The Song of Solomon provides a lyrical reference”…an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits: camphour, with spikenard, spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes. With all the chief spices: … Awake, O north wind: and come, thou South: blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.”

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Thursday, October 19, 2017


For all of us, it's hard to look at things from the other side.
The other day a guy was working here on the house, and I wound up telling a story I'd forgotten all about.  Seems like a good time to share it here, too.

Remember this?  Some people saw blue/black, some saw white/tan.  Same dress.

The last few years of high school, after the bus picked up a bunch of us near my house, it traveled a couple of miles before the final stop for one lone girl.  By the time we got there, everyone had stretched out across their seats, taking up the whole thing, and when she boarded, they wouldn't make eye contact, forcing her to ask them to let her sit.

After watching this a few times, I started picking up my stuff before we got to her house, and making her welcome to sit with me.  I would have hated to start every day facing a busload of people who made me ask for a place to sit and felt uncomfortable for her.  We sat together for at least a year.

Probably 10 years later, I ran into her at a party where she had been... shall we say... a bit longer than she should have been.  When she saw me, she loudly and proudly proclaimed to the whole party that nobody would sit with me on the bus, but she felt sorry for me, so she'd sit with me.

You know what they say... "Don't do things for people for their gratitude."  GOT IT!

So... yes, my feelings were hurt, but the real point of this story is that neither one of us could imagine what the other one was thinking OR experiencing.  I still believe that if she'd given it a moment of thought, she'd have figured it out, but as is human nature, she felt that she had done a good deed, as did I.

... and that's how it works.  We will each always see our own side of things more clearly.  None of us like to give ground and admit that the other person has a point (even if we don't agree with it). 

Just something to think about. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

November/December '17 Essential Herbal, Table of Contents (Issue #96)

Although this issue fell together perfectly, and is (as usual) filled with really wonderful things, it was the most challenging we've had in well over 10 years.  2 computers acted up, one lay-out artist skated across her kitchen floor on her elbow and ankle, a couple issues with the print and mail, and then fires in CA messed with the IT guy's abilities to update the site.  BUT IT IS HERE!  Whew!  Get ready for some warm and cozy holiday treats.

Table of Contents:

Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams   
     It's been one heck of a growing season.

Bee’s Wax Solstice Ornaments
, Marci Tsohonis   
     Mmmm... beautiful with or without scent, these ornaments will brighten your home.

Cardamom, Miranda Hoodenpyl   
     Such a delicious, warm, and fragrant spice.  We love it!  Try the gingersnaps, syrup, and chai recipes included.
Bubble Bars, TEH staff   
     Something fun to make with the kids.

Gardening Wrap Up, Kathy Musser
     Give some thought to what went right, what went wrong, and what you'd like to change.

Herbal Holiday Stress Soothers, Catherine Love
     The use of herbs and gentle aromatherapy can make all the difference.  Instructions for bath salts and a tea blend provided.

Steak of the Wine Maker, Rita Richardson
     Rita's dishes always make my mouth water, and this is no exception.
Sugarplums, Karen Hegre
     That imaginary confection of our childhood is here for the making!

Celebrating Cacao. Kristine Brown
     All the reasons we should add cacao to our lives, AND some recipes, including cacao toothpaste!
Herbal Quiz 101, Molly Sams
     Take a moment out of your busy season to think about herbs.
Hosting a High Tea, American Style, Jackie Johnson
     Great ideas for what to serve, how to serve it and what goes together.
Molly (of the West), Molly Sams   
     Getting settled and finding a whole different world of plants.

Aloe Comfrey Soap, Marci Tsohonis
     This soother is great for wind burns and chapped skin of winter.
Winter Herb Activities, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh   
     Fun things to make for yourself or for others!  Tub teas, potpourri, a fire spell, and brownies are all listed.

Fudge TEH staff, Easy and quick, just the kind of thing memories are made with.
List Article, What Herb/Plant says “Winter Holidays” to You?   
     Many different plants are mentioned along with several ideas for their use.

Say Ahhhh... Herbal Throat Spray, Cathy Calfchild
     Soothing, effective remedy.
 Louisiana Lagniappe, Shrimp Stuffed Portobella Mushrooms, Sarah Liberta   
     Perfect for holiday gatherings.  Fancy, but not too time-consuming.

Maryanne's Turkey and Stuffing

There you have it.  A great issue, right?  Get yours now at
This issue will most likely sell out.  Gift subscriptions are a very thoughtful present that arrives 6 times  year.