Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Because it was there... pine pollen.

 It is tree pollen season here.  Cars turn yellow and we all sneeze and rub our eyes.  Molly is allergic to this as well as corn pollen, so she had a pretty rough time of it here for a few months every year.  Eventually she found that bee pollen really helped.  BUT since it is here now and I've read random bits about it here and there. I decided to try gathering some so that if I decide to try something later, I've got the the powder to work with.
That's how I found out I'm allergic to it too.  Not terribly, but it isn't something I want to work with on a daily basis.  Here's how I did it... 

Looking up at the White Pine tree, there were pollen covered male cones everywhere.I'd read that all one has to do is put it into a bag and shake.  No.  All over me! Hair, clothes, hands... everywhere.

So instead, I cut about a cupful of the bunches and gently dropped them into the bag.
To keep the pollen contained, the cones went into a mesh strainer over a bowl, and the whole thing went into a gallon bag with the top (side?) left open so it could dry and continue to mature.

This is about half of what came from the cones.  I emptied it the other day.

Dumped out onto a clear cutting board.

Using a 15X lens so you can see the individual grains of pollen.

Another close-up.  I used a slim knife blade to scrape up the pollen and slide it into a bottle.

All done and happy to get this eye glue out of the kitchen.  About 1/2 ounce of pollen from a cup of cones.  That's more than I expected.  Pretty amazing, really.

So now I have it ready when I've had time and inclination to fool around with it.  Right now there are so many herb medicines showing up and needing attention.  By the time fall rolls around, I'll have a dozen things like this to do.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Is that food herbal?

Which are foods and which are herbs?  Can you tell?
It all depends on what you call an herb.  For me, that would be any useful plant, so...
Mr. Stern, my 5th grade teacher gave us an overnight assignment to list (hah) all of the foods that were not derived from plants*.  Derivation included meat from animals that ate plants or ate animals that ate plants.
I've always felt that herbs and food are deeply intertwined.  We think of them in the culinary sense, but in fact, all plant foods are herbs.  It goes WAY beyond that parsley on the edge of the plate, to realizing that almost everything on the plate is herbal.
What about these herb pastes?
How about some elderberry goodies?
We all know they're medicinal, right? Every ingredient in the recipes are herbs.  Eggs for the pie came from chickens that ate grass and bugs that ate plants.  It's all plants.  It's all herbal.

Broccoli is considered great for arterial health.  Cabbage is practically a medicine chest.  Oats - need I say more?  Carrots for eye support, asparagus or dandelion greens as diuretics to flush us clean... I could go on and on.  Everything we eat is medicine.

I was just in the very beginning stages of a conversation about whether certain herbs might be more beneficial for people whose ancestors lived where they grow.  That made me think about the book that came out in the 90's about losing weight by eating foods specific to your blood type.  We had our shop at the time, so there were several rousing discussions about whether ancestral foods for different blood types (which generally originate in specific areas of the world) make a difference.
It's an interesting concept.

Last week when attempting to order some copies of my Healing Herbs book and finding out it is now out of print (grrrrr....), I went over to grab a couple for myself on Amazon and, being a masochist, read the few negative reviews among the glowing positives.  Because who doesn't love to pick a scab?
 Anyhow, one negative comment was that herbs not included in the book were used in recipes.  Would that be wheat?  Olive oil?  Perhaps they meant the almonds or milk?  Don't get me wrong, I AM being intentionally obtuse here, but we only did chapters on 20 herbs.  I know the reviewer was referring to something like nutmeg or parsley or saffron. But that would have severely limited recipes to only use 20 plants, right?  Smash some raspberries into plantain?  Don't even get me started on the dude who was seriously miffed that rosemary wasn't a chapter, because he wanted to learn about rosemary.  No... don't even bring that guy up.

Sometimes a magazine subscriber will say something like, "more medicinal, fewer recipes."
I get it.  It's just hard to separate the two.  I'll even admit that occasionally the sweets included are meant for tea time, because that's good stuff too.  Besides, there is a lot more to herbs than medicine.
Without question, we try to make sure there's a good blend of everything in the magazine each issue.  I'm making light of it here, but we take every comment seriously.  If it was important enough to mention to us, we listen and do what we can.

*Do you know the answer yet?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Know your audience?

This afternoon my sister and I were driving across the county and talking about this and that.  I told her that renewal postcards had gone out, and I'd probably send emails shortly.  She said, "oh yeah, a little nudge, nudge, wink, wink."  We laughed, and I wondered if I could get away with that in the subject line.  Which led to a more serious discussion.
I mentioned that looking back for a long ago post for a project, it was sort of surprising how different my writing was.  Back then I was casual, full of zest, and didn't care quite so much how it came across. In talking about it, I remembered that I USED to pretend to be writing to a good friend.  Someone who would enjoy whatever tidbits or news were written, because we're friends.  It makes it so much easier than worrying about a few hundred people who might consider me a dweeb.  AND by this time, most of you do know me (and Molly... and Maryanne), and the sense of humor around here.  We do goofy stuff sometimes, and we have fun.  Sometimes we make mistakes, and hopefully that keeps you from having to do it too.
For instance, last night I decided to gather some pine pollen to experiment with after noticing the tree in the side yard was loaded.  While shaking the pollen into a bag, it suddenly became apparent that I must have a bit of an allergy. So I'm letting you know.  Be careful the first time. 
The yellow powder was all over my hands, clothing, face, hair, and the only thing to do was jump in the shower.

I've been wondering why it was so hard to write lately.  Writing is kind of my jam.  As a teen, when angst, heartbreak, and awesome new things were every day experiences, I could pour out page after page of feelings, thereby saving anyone from having to deal with *that*.  Eventually it became a pressure release valve, for when things - good or bad - became too large to contain.  Bam!  A few pages, and things started to fall into place and make sense again.  I have written an entire book since my daughter was born, filled with how it felt to feel trapped by a sick little person, the worry of watching her play on the floor while waiting for a biopsy report, how it felt when she graduated, and a million other things.  I still haven't been able to write the part about her moving across the country...

For people who write a lot, it can be hard to express ourselves verbally in the moment.  Molly started writing me notes as soon as she learned to write, and I totally got it.  It's so much easier to sit down, take a few deep breaths, and get it out.  The ability to finish a thought, stay on topic, and erase, refine, and rephrase is so comforting.  It has usually been important in my romantic relationships.  The more intense the relationship, the more frightening it can be to try to explain something.  I have learned though, that it is very important to be with someone who reads.  Heh.

So I'm going to try to get back to it.  I'm not going to compete with the blogs that are run by people who do it for a living, spending days doing set-up and photography.  It's going to be fun again.  Hopefully.  I'm not going to attempt to compete with anyone except myself.  Heck with that!

 Oh, and I'm going to use "Nudge, nudge, wink, wink," for the subject in the email.

See ya later, buddy!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Readers' Favorite Backyard Remedies

List ArticlePrior to each issue of The Essential Herbal, we used to pose a question to The Essential Herbal Yahoo List (when it was a lot more active than it is now), and ask for ideas, recipes, or crafts dealing with that question.  They were a lot of fun.  This one is from the May/June ’06 issue.
What is the one home remedy that comes from your back yard (or wherever your plants are), that you make every year?

Photo credit:  Lori Stahl

☀️My answer:  Every year, I fill a jar with chopped up plantain, jewelweed and aloe.  They are covered with either vinegar or alcohol (depending on what I have around).  That way we always have something on hand in very early spring - when bug bites and poison ivy are present, but the "remedy plants" aren't up yet.

☀️One of my favorites that seems to come in handy at some point each summer is sage in apple cider vinegar for poison ivy.  Bertha Reppert casually mentioned this one at an herb gathering one spring. That summer, just as the Renaissance Faire began, almost all the actors managed to get poison ivy. As soon as she could, the Queen came to our shop because she could barely walk with poison ivy all over her feet!
We remembered Bertha's instructions to fill a bottle with bruised sage leaves, then pour apple cider vinegar into the bottle until full.  We gave the solution to the Queen the next morning with instructions to dab it on her feet as often as she could.  She was very grateful because it dried up almost overnight and she shared it with the cast.

☀️I always make myself some rose petal vinegar, to use as a sunburn treatment. I use red or pink roses from our garden, and organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (it smells and feels better than "regular" vinegar), and just infuse them together until the vinegar is a gorgeous red/pink shade. Then i strain off the roses, and put the vinegar into a beautiful, cut-glass decanter I got years ago at an antique store. I keep it in the bathroom and add a cup or two of the vinegar to my bathwater after I get my first sunburn of the year. I use a bit of lavender body oil after my rose-vinegar bath and my sunburn is practically healed immediately!

☀️So many come to mind, but the one I'm the most anxious for is a green drink made with tender new leaves of mints, chickweed, plantain, calendula, dandelion, etc. whirled in the blender with apple juice or pineapple juice or both.
Drinking this is like pouring pure sunshine (we never can get enough of here in western WA) into your body.  A great tonic packed for of vitamins.  Yum!!!
My second favorite is Calendula flowers, Lavender, Plantain, Chickweed, Comfrey & Lobelia infused in virgin olive oil.  We make several gallons as a base for our very healing salves and to add to our soaps.
This is the hardest topic because there are so many that our family couldn't live without.  Enough Basil Pesto for the winter, gallons of different Herbal Vinegars for flavor & digestion, Echinacea, Oregon Grape, Usnea for tinctures, and, of course, Spearmint, Catnip, Fennel, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, Lemon Thyme for teas.

☀️I have Yarrow planted, and you can use the leaves for cuts and wounds to aide with disinfecting and bleeding.  I learned this from reading Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar! She also suggests that you can take a pinch of dried herb, place in nose when you have a nose bleed.

☀️The last several years I have made 2 quarts of echinacea tincture using Echinacea purpura root and 100 proof vodka.  It helps to ward of those pesky colds and flu. Between my friends and family all is used. This year I think I will double my stores.

☀️My  favorite concoction as well as everyone who tries it is my Comfrey Salve...
We pick leaves, wilt them just a bit in the sun and solar infuse for two to three weeks, strain, and make a salve using a 5:1 ratio of beeswax, add in eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender & peppermint essential oils. My emerald salve heals very fast and is great for poor noses sore from colds, hands that are very chapped and minor skin abrasions. It heals so fast it is amazing.
Deb Sturdevant

☀️For the past 20-25 years I've made an Herbal Salve with Calendula, Comfrey, Plantain and St. Johns Wort harvested from our gardens.  I infuse the fresh herbs in olive oil.  After six-eight weeks I make the salve. I harvest & infuse those herbs on a regular basis throughout the growing season so I have plenty for the entire year. If I have a good crop of Arnica.....I'll use that
Karen Lee Hegre

☀️We like to make nettle soup in the early spring.
Mary Ellen Wilcox
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled coarsely chopped
½ cup uncooked rice
4 quarts stinging nettle tips, loosely packed
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Wash nettles (wearing rubber gloves) by plunging them into a sink full of water, then lifting them out of the water, leaving any debris behind.
In deep pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Stir in the onion and sauté until the onions are soft and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains are translucent, about one minute.
Add the nettles, the garlic and the broth and bring the soup to a full, rolling boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is very tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the soup in small batches to a blender and purée until smooth. Add the salt and pepper and serve hot.

☀️Ooooh...every spring I can't wait til the mint pops up so I can make this incredibly refreshing skin toner (I call it Minty Orange Julep Face Tonic).
I take about 3 tablespoons of fresh mint leaves (usually peppermint, spearmint and a mint called [what else] Mint Julep and sometimes a little bit of pennyroyal) and cover them with a cup of boiling water and let them sit (covered) until the water has cooled.  In another bowl I put the zest
from an organic orange and cover that with a cup of boiling water, cover the bowl and let it cool.  Then I strain the water off the mint and orange peel, combine the mint water and orange water and, yum yum … mint and citrus toner!  I add about a tablespoon or so of Everclear per 1/2 cup of "tea" and bottle 'er up.  This is the most awesome "wake me up in the morning" skin freshener.  I like to apply it with a cotton ball, but others prefer misting it with a spray bottle.  My friends say they can *feel* it working and
toning their pores.
Barbara Korando

☀️Here is a summer recipe that is good for all ages.

Watermelon facial refresher
2 Tbsp. watermelon juice
1 Tbsp. vodka
2 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. witch hazel
Make sure that you don’t have any seeds in the watermelon juice.
Combine all ingredients and stir well.
Pour into an air tight container
To use: apply to face with cotton balls. Store in the refrigerator.

And here is one to keep the bugs away!
Bugs away!
1 tsp. citronella essential oil
2 cups witch hazel
3 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Mix together well. Pour into a spray bottle. Apply to exposed skin liberally.
(does not need to be kept in the refrigerator)

☀️Well, as you might guess from my frequent allusions to it, the most useful herb in my garden is feverfew. Although I've tinctured it, I prefer to eat the fresh leaves when I have a migraine.
Feverfew tastes nasty, so I roll up the leaf and pour salt on it before I pop it into my mouth. Like salting a radish, that takes away the intense bitter flavor.
If the headache is especially bad, I'll eat two leaves. Within the half hour, I usually realize I'm feeling well again.
Feverfew is quite hardy. It's a great fresh remedy from March through December. After that, I use the tincture or drink feverfew tea.

☀️I have been mulling this over, this last year has really been the first year I grew any of my own herbs.  But the one I appreciated the most was my calendula.  Those little darlings would bloom, and I would pick the blooms off, then they would grow and bloom again!  I infused them in olive oil, which is used in almost all my products.  The next best thing was my mints, everyone enjoyed either picking them fresh and eating or making heavenly iced tea, which believe me, is a quick remedy, on hot Oklahoma days!

☀️We always have to make lavender vodka--it is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. We use for injuries, used it to disinfect all sorts of things and it smells so much better than Lysol.  It prevents infections and even will cure athlete's foot...once you have it, you will find many uses for it.
Greenspirit Nursery,   N Idaho