Saturday, November 25, 2017

Flavors and Fragrances of the Season

Excerpts from Flavors and Fragrances of the Season
Jackie Johnson ND
Planhigion Herbal Learning Center

Nov/Dec '13 issue of Essential Herbal magazine
As fall wanes, and we’re satiated from our Thanksgiving flavors….our taste buds turn to the Christmas season and its alluring tastes and smells.

Most of the spices of the season are warm, which seem to help us ease into the season and the cooler (colder) temperatures.

The most common spice of the season is the sweet, spicy and pungent Cinnamon.  Who doesn’t have at least one favorite recipe that includes cinnamon?  Is it cinnamon or cassia?   Both belong to the same family but which is which?  I was told once that cassia’s bark curls two ways and true cinnamon curls only one way.  Cassia is more reddish, more aromatic, and more bitter, whereas true cinnamon is lighter in color and milder.  Usually what we purchase in ground form is a mixture of them both.   Once nearly as expensive as gold, much research is going on with cinnamon, so enjoy your treats, cuz it’s all good!   Is cinnamon tea with honey really a hardship for anyone?

Typically considered the second most valuable spice in the world (to saffron) is cardamom.  Most people don’t use it much, but maybe this sweet, pungent and warming spice should be.  In the ginger family, try substituting a teaspoon of cardamom in your cinnamon sugar.   As with cinnamon, when cooking, it should be added early.

Here’s an old family favorite my grandmother used to make.  (If I’ve infringed on someone’s recipe, I apologize, but this is how it came handwritten about 30 years ago.)

Spiced Seafoam
3 large egg whites
1 cup white sugar
½ t. cardamom
½ t cinnamon
¼ t cloves

Beat the egg whites until stiff.  Add the sugar a little at a time (while still beating).  Then hand stir in the spices (which have already been mixed together).  Drop in small mounds on a parchment covered baking sheet and put in an oven already at 250 degrees, for 90 minutes.  Then turn off the oven and let them sit in there over night.  Remove in the a.m.

Cloves are yet another favorite – whether they’re in stuck in oranges or added to teas.  It’s another warming pungent, spice that should be added early and sparingly in recipes.  If really too strong for you, snip off the tops and grind the “stem” for a milder version. 

All the spices so far are good for digestion and nausea; cloves can also help adult toothache pain (not kids) when smashed and placed around the tooth until you can get to the dentist.

Coriander (the seed of cilantro) should also be dry-toasted to release its flavor.  Unlike the others, it should be added near the end of the cooking cycle.  Like fenugreek , it was considered an aphrodisiac.

Ginger is one of my favorites.  It was once said that “every good quality is contained in ginger”.   I like to start growing this in the early spring so I have my own available in winter.  Just put a piece of the root (with an eye) in a pot.  Don’t let it get frosted, but set it out in the summer (takes about 10-11 months).  Each batch you grow from the last one is less strong than its predecessor but it’s easy and fun to grow.  (I also slice ginger root into quarter size pieces and freeze it.  When I don’t feel well, I’ll pull out a couple of ginger root pieces, a couple of frozen lemon slices and put them in a quart jar with hot water add honey and drink on it all day.)

A Christmas staple, but gingerbread was also a favorite of General Lafayette after George Washington’s mother served it to him in 1784.  Here an easy recipe adapted from several.

2 ¼ cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup black strap molasses
¾ cup hot water
½ cup shortening
1 egg
1 t soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
¾ t salt

Blend all the above by hand for about 30 seconds and then with a mix (I don’t think they had mixers during the Civil War, but they do make life easier) for about 3 minutes.  Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 9 pan, and bake at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes.  I’ve found it comes out of the pan easier when it’s cool.   (It’s cake-like.)
Mulling spices are popular during winter.   Recipes are as varied as those who throw them together and are dictated by taste preferences.  Don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Favorite #1:
Cinnamon sticks
Orange peels (dried)

Favorite #2
Orange and Lemon peels (dried)
Star Anise (just a little)

These can be mulled in apple cider or juice, or wine depending on your crowd.  Most are served warm, but sometimes I mull in apple juice, cool, add cold orange juice and ginger ale.   If you want a “Wassail” use a red or fruit wine in a crockpot and add some brown sugar, honey and maybe a little brandy.

Sometimes I’ll put the cloves in a small orange or lemon and plunk them in the crockpot. Don’t cover the fruit with them, just a trail or two of them.

All of these drinks make the house smell wonderful while heating them up.   We usually serve them in a crockpot (that can be hidden in pretty Christmas fabric with greens and cinnamon sticks tied together around it).

Another family favorite that does double duty as a house deodorizer is a fruit soup.  There are all kinds of recipes for these, but I’ve found that anything goes – use what you have.

Swedish Fruit Soup
Start with 5 – 10 cups of water (depending on what you put in)
Dried apricots
Sliced orange
Sliced lemon
Sliced apple
Sliced pear
1 or 2 cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves
(If you have a favorite spice, i.e. allspice, nutmeg – take some of the soup out and add a little and let it sit awhile to see if the added spice is something you like in the soup.)
Let this simmer for hours or until everything is blended.  You can add a small amount of tapioca at the end if you like, but I’ve found it isn’t necessary.  This can be served warm or cold.   If you eat too much, you’ll find it’s a great ‘cleanser’.

Happy Holidays however you celebrate it!

This article was quite a bit longer, with lovely recipes for the holidays.  Subscribing to Essential Herbal is easy and worthwhile.  We're the best kept secret in the herbal community.  Share and help us spread the word!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Newsflash – Herbs Are Mainstream!

Essential Herbal Magazine Sept/Oct '13

Now I know some of you are nodding your heads, some of you are surprised, and some of you just shouted, “thank goodness someone finally said it!”

From our earliest days standing in our renaissance fair booth, we have always striven to make herbs accessible to all, to educate and share, and it seems our dreams are coming true.  We remember the uproar and chaos caused by the “60 Minutes” segment on St. John’s Wort in ’98 or ’99.  Or how wary anyone with an herb business was to speak of medicinal uses, or even place books too close to the herbs themselves, for fear of being raided.  We remember when stevia was banned for import into the US for a few years with no explanation or reason (which coincided perfectly with the release of aspartame, by the way) and there was nobody to fight it.  The new herbal pop culture may feel that herbs are “out there” and that a trail is being blazed, but that is far from the truth.   It is typical though, to find something new to you and not realize that it existed before you arrived.  We’ve all done that.  Remember discovering sex? 

Everyone drinks herbal teas, uses echinacea, ginger, or take Ricola cough drops!  They use herbs even if they don't know too much about what they're doing.  Herbal remedies are everywhere, and the produce departments are routinely carrying fresh turmeric root and a selection of fresh herbs and mushrooms.

Every drugstore in the country has an herb section now.  Compare that to a pharmacist coming into our shop and chuckling over our offerings in a mocking way 15 years ago.  Now, I believe he’s busy compounding for naturopathic physicians.   

Last week we attended a 4 day show that had nothing to do with herbs and by the second day it was just like our mornings at faire, with attendees lined up to ask about remedies and skin issues.  Every single weekday (like it or not) Dr. Oz touts some herb or another.  If you've been reading TEH for any length of time (or our blog, or been on our Yahoo! group), you know that our goal is to make herbs easy, accessible and NORMAL.  It’s happening.

It is now paramount that we as a community choose to embrace and share with those who are looking for a better way.  It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, nor should this knowledge that belongs to all of us be presented as something elite or peculiar.  Who does that serve?  If anything, it increases the perceived need for regulations as the powers-that-be see people preying on the unsuspecting, na├»ve, newbie.  That too (unfortunately) is nothing new.  The more commonplace and every day we treat our use of weeds and plants and veggies/fruits for well-being, the better off we will all be.

Are there rules that make it difficult for us sometimes?   Yes there are.  There always have been, and we’ve always found ways to work with and around them.  I’m not making light of the situation, but do feel that as the majority of the populace now uses some form of medicinal herb (Been to the doctor lately?  They ask what herbs are being used on their intake forms) it really is up to us to claim them as responsible adults, claim this right that is little different than the right to water or air, and expecting to be heard without shouting.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Try a Tincture

Essential Herbal Nov/Dec 10’
Tinctures are a concentrated form of herbal preparation, which are quickly absorbed and easy to take. The word ‘tincture’ comes from the Latin “Tinctura” meaning colored herbal extract made with alcohol.  In creating a tincture, the medicinal parts of herbs are extracted and preserved by a menstruum (solvent):  alcohol, apple cider vinegar or glycerin. The tincture method is called maceration and can easily be prepared in your home.
Alcohol as a Menstruum: Vodka is the most common alcohol to use in tinctures due to its lack of color and taste, but some people prefer whiskey or rum (or whatever!). In the folk method, tincturing works best with a ratio of 50% alcohol to 50% water which is fairly equivalent to100 proof vodka and provides an indefinite shelf life. Alcohol extracts volatile oils, alkaloids and flavonoids from the herb; whereas water extracts the saponins and glycosides. Although some herbs do better with more water or more alcohol, this proof is generally a good medium.
Vinegar as a Menstruum: Organic apple cider vinegar has many medicinal properties and makes a good base for extracting the medicinal properties from the herbs. Shelf life of apple cider vinegar is reported to be about one year. I use 3 parts vinegar to 1 part dried herb or 2 parts fresh herb. Vinegar extracts only the alkaloids from the herb, making the tincture less potent than one made with alcohol.
Glycerin as a Menstruum
: Because of the sweet flavor and the fact that it does not contain alcohol, it is useful in making tinctures for children and people averse to drinking alcohol. Though it has good preservative properties and dissolves mucilage material, vitamins and minerals, it does not dissolve the resinous or oily components as well as alcohol. Glycerin needs to be thinned with water 1:1. The rest of the process is the same as the alcohol based tincture. When buying glycerin (available in natural food stores) make certain it is 100% vegetable glycerin which is of much higher quality. Glycerin is effective at extracting tannins from herbs but is a much weaker solvent than alcohol or vinegar.
Creating a Tincture
Using the simple folk method:  Fill a glass jar half way with dried herb(s). If you are using fresh herbs fill the jar loosely to the top. Be certain that the jar has a tight fitting lid. Cover the herb completely with your choice of menstruum: alcohol, vinegar or glycerin. Next day top off your jar to be sure the herb is entirely covered after absorbing the liquid. Keep the jar in a cool, dark place and shake the tincture a couple of times a day.

Allow the herb to sit (macerate) in the menstruum for a minimum of 2 weeks. I typically infuse my tinctures for 3 to 4 weeks. After 6 months the menstruum will no longer extract the medicines from the herb. At this point, strain the herbal tincture through several layers of cheese cloth, using a colander and a large bowl to catch the liquid. Using your hands, squeeze the remaining liquid from the tinctured herb through the cheese cloth. I do a second strain through coffee filters via a colander to get the remaining sediment out of the tincture. Pour the liquid in a glass jar, seal with a lid, label and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Tinctures do not require refrigeration. Pour into individual amber or blue dropper bottles, to keep light from entering, and label the tincture. ALWAYS CLEARLY LABEL YOUR HERBAL PREPARATIONS!

Tinctures are usually taken by the dropperful, approximately 25 drops.   You can mix your tincture with a bit of juice or tea to mask the taste if needed. If you don't wish to ingest the alcohol, stir a dropperful of tincture into a cup of boiling water. This allows the alcohol to evaporate very quickly. Drink the mixture when it cools slightly.
(editor's note:  this is NOT sufficient to remove alcohol for those with a sensitivity to alcohol.)

The information in this article is intended solely to inform the reader. Please be certain to ‘know your herb’ before consuming it. “Walk Gently on this Earth”.
Mary Hammond – Herbal Practitioner

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Rosemary - Herb of Remembrance (with recipes)

The Essential Herbal Magazine Jul/Aug '11

    Legends concerning rosemary abound!  Do you suppose that rosemary can really help us remember things?  In ancient Greece, students did believe this and wore garlands of rosemary on their heads while studying for exams.  It was also believed that if a young lady placed her shoes on either side of her bed, put a sprig of rosemary in one and thyme in the other, then sleeping on her back, she would dream of the man she would marry.

   "Where rosemary flourishes, the woman rules!"  It is easy to imagine struggling rosemary plants being lovingly nurtured by the lady of that house, but not so readily nurtured by her husband!
   Rosemary is a tender perennial in most regions, and must therefore be grown as a container plant or dug from the garden in fall and wintered over indoors.  Rosemary is best started from cuttings of well-established plants.  Seeds take at least 3 weeks to germinate, and will not produce as strong a plant.  If you do decide to plant rosemary in the garden for the summer, place it in a sunny location, in well-drained soil.  In container or garden, rosemary does not like to have its' feet wet, so good drainage is important.  Interestingly, rosemary in a pot cannot be allowed to dry out, either.  A quote says "a dry rosemary is a dead rosemary" keep your potted plants watered, and mist regularly.  Choose one of the prostrate varieties for potted plants.  They make an impressive and lovely hanging basket.

   Rosemary has many uses...culinary, decorative, cosmetic, and was used as a medicinal herb in ages past.  A mixture of rosemary and juniper berries was burned in hospitals in France during World War II to kill germs, and research has shown that rosemary oil does have some antibacterial properties.
   As a culinary herb, rosemary goes well with pork and chicken, and enhances potato recipes as well as other vegetables.  When cooking a port roast, place several sprigs of fresh rosemary over the top, sprinkle with garlic powder, and wrap in foil.  Place this on the grill and cook according to per pound times.  The rosemary permeates the meat and gives it a different and delicious flavor!  In England, rosemary was always used to adorn the Christmas roast, usually boar.

   Rosemary has long been used in decorating for special occasions.  Rosemary symbolizes remembrance and love, is special to the bride, and is always part of the herbal wedding.  It was used in Medieval England to decorate the church and home during Christmastime.  Rosemary is a favorite for those who like to create topiaries.
   As a cosmetic herb, rosemary is used as a hair rinse for brunettes.  For use in the bath, rosemary is stimulating.  You can make an herbal water by adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil to a pint of water.  Store in the refrigerator, and add a small amount of the mixture to the bath.  Rosemary bath oil can be made by adding rosemary essential oil to sweet almond, jojoba or castor oil.  It is best to use one of these carrier oils, since essential oils, used alone, are very concentrated.

   Every herb lover and gardener should have at least one rosemary plant growing in the garden, on the patio, or on the windowsill.  It is a lovely and intriguing herb!
Potatoes with Rosemary and Cheese
4 medium-sized potatoes, unpeeled and cut into thick slices
2 tsp. olive or vegetable oil
2 tsp. dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp. paprika
3/4 cup shredded sharp or medium cheddar
   (or Monterey Jack jalapeno adds a zing)

   Place potatoes in a shallow 1-1/2 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with oil and seasonings; stir to coat.  Cover with waxed paper and microwave on high 10-12 minutes, stirring twice until potatoes are tender.  Sprinkle with cheese; cover and let stand for 5 minutes, until cheese melts.  Makes 4 servings.

Rosemary Butter
   To 1 stick of unsalted (sweet) softened butter, add 1-1/2 tsp. dried rosemary which has been crushed to release the flavor.  Mix well.  Refrigerate overnight.  Use on baked potatoes, rub on chicken before grilling, or as a spread for rolls or bread.

Rosemary Jelly
4 cups bottled white grape juice
1 cup water
3 cups sugar
5-6 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped and bruised
1 box Sure-Jell Light fruit pectin

   Pour juice and water into a heavy 6-8 quart saucepot.  Add the rosemary.
   Measure the sugar and set aside.  Mix 1/4 cup sugar with contents of the box of pectin.  Stir this into juice in saucepot.  Pot should be not more than 1/3 full.
   Bring juice to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in remaining sugar.  Continue to stir and bring to a full rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Quickly skim foam with a metal spoon.  Ladle into sterilized jars.  Seal and process in hot water bath for 5 minutes.
   Yield: 6 half pints.

Mary Ellen Wilcox
SouthRidge Treasures
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Handmade Holidays

Nov/Dec '12 issue - The Essential Herbal Magazine

By Kristin Henningsen M.S., R.Y.T.
Banyon Moon Botanicals

More and more people are turning to handmade gifts this holiday season.  Whether it is from the current economic climate, a greener conscience, or a brilliant burst of creativity, the trend is certainly catching on.  Handmade gifts are a great way to show appreciation for the ones you love. 
This season, celebrate by helping those you love decrease their stress and increase their health and wellness.  Two simple, but powerful ways to do this are by soaking in a bath and/or drinking a cup of herbal tea.  Herbal baths and teas have strong medicinal value.  Benefits can range from gently soothing a sore muscle, to invigorating yourself on a dreary winter's day.
Follow these herbal recipes below to make quick and easy, yet thoughtful gifts.  Think of them as templates, and feel free to let your creative juices dictate the final product.  

Muscle Ease Bath Salt
1/2 cup Sea Salt                                                                      
1/2 cup Baking Soda
1/2 cup Epsom Salt                                             
20 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
15 drops Lavender Essential Oil
5 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
                ~Mix all ingredients well.  Add to bath by tablespoons to desired strength.

Dreamy Bath Salt Blend
1/2 cup Sea Salt                               
1/2 cup Baking Soda
1/2 cup Epsom Salt                         
5 drops each of Rose, Chamomile, Lavender, and Jasmine Essential Oil
                ~Mix all ingredients well.  Add to bath by tablespoons to desired strength.

FairyTale Tea
1/2 cup Raspberry Leaf              
1/2 cup Lemon Balm                     
1/2 cup Chamomile                        
1/4 cup Peppermint                     
1/4 cup Spearmint                       
1/4 cup Rose hips                     
1/4 cup Lavender            
            ~Blend all ingredients together for a delicious and fragrant tea blend.    *yields 20 oz.
Minty Magic Tea
2 cups Peppermint                         
1 cup Spearmint              
1/4 cup Lemon Balm
                ~Blend ingredients together for an uplifting and refreshing tea blend. *Yields 20 oz.

You can store Bath Salts and Teas in simple Ball Mason Jars, or any interesting jar you find.  Hot glue pretty paper onto the jar for a label, tie a ribbon around the top, and you have a beautiful homemade gift for family and friends.  While you're at it, go ahead and make one for yourself too. 
Let your gifts come from the heart this holiday season.  You and your family will truly feel the benefits in body, mind, and spirit.