Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Over a Dozen Ways to Use Up Some of That Christmas Tree

We gathered up some ideas from over the years of The Essential Herbal Magazine.  If you have a nice, natural tree, keep some of the needles and use them for something to use, or keep and remember until next year!
Here are some great ideas:

From Marcy Lautanen Raleigh  
If you have a pine-phobic in your household here is a great way to make them more pine friendly by seeing the benefits of pine.
I will start with tea you can make with Balsam Fir needles.  Use a heaping teaspoon of fir needles and rose hips in a large mug and cover with water (about 8 to 10 ounces.)  Allow to steep for 10 minutes and sweeten with honey.  This tea will relieve congestion, if you drink 2 to 3 mugs of it during a day.
If you want to ease congestion but do not enjoy the flavor of pine, you can make a balsam steam too.  Add a cup of two of snipped fresh needles to a pan of water and bring to a simmer.  Drape a towel over your head and lean over the pan inhaling the steam for several minutes.

If you enjoy the scent of pine, you can make hot pads stuffed with needles.  Cut a square of cloth about 6 to 8 inches square.  Sew three sides and place some wool or 100% cotton batting inside.  Add ½ cup pine needles to the hot pad.  Sew the final side closed, then stitch or quilt the center of the hot pad to keep the needles from bunching up together.
You can also make these recipes to give as a gift during the winter season.
Sore Muscle Soak
This is a blend of herbs and pine I have been making since early in my business.  It is great for relieving aches and pains, especially those from decorating the house!
1/3 cup Epsom salts
1/3 cup baking soda
1 Tbls. lemon balm
1 Tbls. Pine needles
1 Tbls. Chamomile
1 Tbls. peppermint
5 to 10 drops peppermint essential oil
Combine all the herbs and salts, then add the essential oil.  Place the materials in a muslin bag or a square of cloth tied with string. 
To use: Hang the bag below the tap and allow water to run through and dissolve the salts, releasing the herbal oils. Soak until the water cools and begin to feel the healing.

From Kristine Brown
(If you cut any branches from the tree, you most likely have some sap.)

Pine resin, also commonly known Pine pitch or sap, has antibacterial properties and can be used fresh from the tree or melted into a salve base for treating wounds, sores and insect bites. Native Americans mixed the pitch with tallow to make a salve, which they applied on wounds caused by splinters, boils and external ulcers. Pine resin is very drawing and can help remove splinters, glass slivers and other imbedded material from the flesh. The resin can also be tinctured and great for treating colds, coughs and bronchitis by using 5-10 drops at a time. Resin is often chewed to soothe a sore throat or persistent cough. The resin can also be applied directly to wounds and cuts as an antiseptic band-aid, making it a great wilderness first aid plant to know. The resin will keep out germs while facilitating healing and easing pain.
Infusing the resin into oil creates a healing oil for soothing sciatica pain and sore muscles, as a chest rub for respiratory complaints and on skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. The oil can also be massaged onto sprains and strains, bruises and rheumatic conditions.

From Janet Gutierrez
Bohemian Prairie Alchemist

I like to take my pine and cedar needles infuse in Olive oil for about 4 weeks and make my, Winter Tree Balm.   You can also heat infuse on low for 2 days, (no higher than 120 degrees on and off in a crockpot). Fill a jar with as much needles as possible. You must make sure that there is no moisture on the needles. A dry/warm day is best to strip the branches. Then fill with the olive oil. You will use this as your base and add enough beeswax to make a salve or balm.  1.5 cups of oil to 2 oz of Beeswax.

From Sandy Michelson
The Frugal Herbalist
How to make a basic salve after you've infused the oil with pine, fir, or spruce needles:
Use a double boiler or make one with a Pyrex measuring cup in a pan of water.
Pour infused pine oil and beeswax into the measuring cup. (1 T wax per 2 oz. Oil)
Place measuring cup in water and heat until wax is melted.
Pour into clean jar to cool.
Label jar.

Pine Simple Syrup (recipe from The Merrythought)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh chopped edible pine needles
Add ingredients to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and let steep for at least 2 hours. You can leave it overnight. Strain mixture through a cheesecloth and then refrigerate the syrup until you’re ready to use it. (Up to one month.)

WARNING: Please be sure that the pine you are using is edible. Do all your research to make sure you have properly identified the tree. (Ponderosa Pine, Yew Tree, Australian Pine, and Norfolk Island Pine are all poisonous when ingested.)
***Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not consume ANY pine.
And, as always, make sure no herbicides have been used on your tree.

From Tina Sams
The Essential Herbal
Make Sachets and Pillows
My favorite needles for these are Balsam Fir and Concolor Fir.

They both have outstanding scents.  Gather the needles off the branches, and lay them loosely in a box or basket so they have a chance to dry.  For a pillow, you'll want to make it very full and taut, and the scent will last for a very long time.  My sister took a trip to Maine as a girl scout (a couple score ago, and I still remember!) and brought home a balsam fir pillow made with a sturdy off white fabric, with a picture of fir stamped on it.  I coveted that relaxing and beautiful pillow!

Make a Vinegar
Fill a jar with chopped needles, and cover with vinegar.
Allow to steep for several weeks.

Strain and use in any way you'd use a culinary vinegar.

Make Christmas Tree Shortbread
Follow the instructions for Confetti Shortbread but swap pine needles for the rosemary and flowers. If you have a pine tree cookie cutter, wouldn't that be perfect?

Make a Pine Needle Basket
I've done this in the past with white pine - which are shorter than those shown in the video  White pine needles are about 4 to 5".  It's fun!

This is a basket I made several years ago NOT using good directions.
There are lots of ways to use them outside, too.  Whole trees can be used as a shelter for wildlife or chipped up to be used as a mulch.  Our municipality will mulch trees for several weeks after the holidays are over, and then allow people to pick up seasoned mulch in the spring.

Please note:  It's very easy to be confused about hemlock, because there are two very different plants.
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), is a poisonous herb in the carrot family that bears a striking resemblance to Queen Anne's Lace, and hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) the native North American tree in the pine family which grows widely here in the eastern US and Canada, and is the state tree of my home state, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sneak Peeks from the New Books

It's always good to know what you're getting into before plunking down the bucks, right?

Well, I'm going to share a little taste of each book below.  Links to pre-order (Jan 15 release) at the end of the post!

From The Healing Power of Herbs by Tina Sams:

2 1/4 c water
1/2 c pine needles cut into 1/2" pieces

And from The Herbal Medicine Cookbook by Susan Hess with a little help from yours truly:

Pre-order The Healing Power of Herbs:
Pre-order The Herbal Medicine Cookbook:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Winter Respite Bathing Herbs

This is a BONUS Recipe.  It is not in the new book The Healing Power of Herbs, but you will learn many things like this.  See below for ordering information.

The book will be released January 15th.
Also, there are 5 ingredients although I say 4 in the video.

We used approximately equal parts (1/4 cup) of:
 - Oatmeal
 - Coconut Milk Powder

 - Epsom Salts
 - Mint (dried)

 - Rosemary (fresh, because it was available)
Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per bath.

Pre-order The Healing Power of Herbs here:
coconut milk powder -
tea bags and magazine -

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Essential Herbal issue - January February 2019

Here we go again, another year begins. A clean slate filled with half-formed dreams and plans,
born in the mists of winter.  This issue has an extraordinary number of things to make, recipes to try,
and medicines to create!
Click here to SUBSCRIBE
Table of Contents:

Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
My usual rambling thoughts on a handful of things.

About the Cover
Jenel Schaffer provided a dreamy watercolor, featuring the herb of the year – Anise Hyssop. 
We include a recipe for shortbread and tea!   

Facing Senior Challenges, Naturally, Sandy Michelsen
Lots of different ways to keep the old bones from creaking, and help us stay active and vital as we age.
Witch Hazel - Medicine Cupboard Necessity, 
Barbara Steele
Learn about this winter beauty, and how to make Witch Hazel Water.
Turkey Tail, Kristine Brown
TONS of info on this lovely medicinally active mushroom. 
How-to’s for many preparations and how to use it as a dye.
Five Fun Herbs & Their Uses, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Lavender, Peppermint, Borage, German Chamomile, and Lemon Balm are discussed.
Loads of recipes, like aioli, lip balm, dressing, and more!
Planning Your Herb Garden, Jenel Schaffer
What do you want to plant?  Where will you put it?  What will you use them for?  So many things to think about. 
There’s a sweet illustration included to inspire you.   

The Scone Debate
, Rebekah Bailey
Did you know the difference between an American scone and a British scone?  You will! 
And you’ll have several delicious sweet and savory recipes to try.
Agastache, Kathy Musser
Herb of the Year for 2019 is Anise Hyssop, of the Agastache genus.
Read about some history and information about Anise Hyssop and move on to several
other agastaches that are briefly covered.   

The Herbal World of Adaptogens, Cathy Calfchild
What are adaptogens?  How and why should we include them in our foods, teas, and supplements?
Conifers - Our Winter Healers, Janet Gutierrez
There are so many ways that the conifers come to our assistance in the winter time. 
We can also make salves and various preparations to take us through the year.
Experimenting with Vegan Waxes
, Marci Tsohonis
If you don’t know your carnauba from your candelilla, this is for you!
A World of Spices, Jackie Johnson
Mmmm… warming spices.  After we read about them, we can go on to make several fabulous blends.
Recycle a Shutter, Rita Richardson
A very cute decorating idea.   

Endocannabinoid System, Pt 1, Marita Orr
“The endocannabinoid system is made up of neurons, endocannabiniods, and cannabinoid receptors.” 
Lots and lots of information here.
Meet Our Writers

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Confetti Shortbread and Ginger Crinkles

Everyone loves cookies, and they're a real downfall for me, but making them to give away helps.  Making small batches helps even more.  I've made 6 little batches this week, and they almost all made it to the freezer.
2 of the batches were recipes that I sort of made up, taking guidance from 6 or 8 recipes I found online, and using the parts I liked.  They both turned out dangerously delicious.

Without further ado...

Confetti Shortbread
This turned out to be the perfect quantities of rosemary and ginger without either being overwhelming.  Delicate and buttery, they had to be packed away as soon as they were cool! 
Preheat oven to 300 F

1/4 c sugar
1 stick butter
1 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 t finely chopped (fresh) rosemary
1 T finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 t chopped dry red rose petals
1 t cornflower petals
1 t calendula petals
(Alternatives to these flowers could be pineapple sage blossoms, bits of saffron, 1/2 t lavender, or any dried, colorful edible flower.)
Cream together sugar and room temperature butter til fluffy.
Add flour and mix well. 
Add confetti.
Form the dough into a 2" diameter log.
Roll log in light brown sugar (I mixed it with the loose sugar in the crystallized ginger bag)
Chill until firm.
Slice 1/4" thick, and place on parchment lined cookie sheets 1" apart.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until just barely browned.  Turn the pan halfway through to insure even cooking.

Ginger Crinkles
A week earlier, I dug around recipes to use cacao nibs and dark cocoa powder - both of which I had "laying around," and ginger.  I came up with this recipe, with those two ingredients added.  It was good - but I like it better without the chocolate.  You might want to add a tablespoon of each to try that!  These are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.  The perfect ginger cookie in my mind!
Preheat oven to 375 F
1/2 c butter
2/3 c sugar
1 egg
1/4 c black strap molasses
1 1/2 c fllour
1 T chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t clove
1/4 t cardamom
pinch salt
1/8 c chopped pecans
1/2 c or so confectioners sugar for rolling.

Cream butter and sugar together. I use a processor.
Add egg and molasses.
Add spices, baking soda, and pecans
Mix in flour (by hand)

Chill dough for an hour or so.

Roll into 1' balls. Roll those in the confectioner's sugar and place 2" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, or preferably on parchment.
Bake about 10 minutes, til the tops are cracked.
Makes about 30 2" cookies

These are both recipes that will be made again!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Winter Essential Herbal Mini-mag

Here are several jam-packed pages with info, recipes, and herbal crafting for the winter months.  It will give you a good idea of what our magazine is like.  The Essential Herbal is print in the US only, pdf is available everywhere. 

Click here to download
Just to give you an idea, *some* of the things you'll find inside this miniature sampling:
- Mushroom Ginger Soup
- Frankincense and Myrrh
- Handmade Holidays
- Herbs for Immunity
- Herbal Resolutions (with a touch of humor)
... and quite a bit more!

Take a few minutes out of this busy season, grab a cup of tea, cocoa, or eggnog, and enjoy these pages.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

ANNOUNCING - 2 great new herb books!

I'm so excited to announce that both I and my friend Susan Hess (from The Stillroom at Pitch Pines) each have a new book coming out!

My book is called The Healing Power of Herbs and I'm always so happy to share the joy of working with herbs and hope to inspire confidence in those just beginning their herbal journey. Those of you who have been magazine subscribers over the years know that this is the most important thing I do.  In addition to a primer of herbal preparations, the book covers 30 important herbs, and offers over 60 simple,interesting, and helpful ways to use each one of them.

Its sister book by Susan Hess is called The Herbal Medicine Cookbook.  It is brimming with information and delicious, healing dishes and meals that help to support vitality and health.  I was thrilled to do some background work on the book.  During her years as a trained therapeutic herbalist, she has fed many of these dishes to her students during her Homestead Herbalism courses.  Some of you may remember posts from Molly while she enjoyed taking Susan's class series.  Now we can make these foods at home with the teachings that go with them included.

These two books (together or separate) are great resources for any herbalist to have in his or her library. Stick around as I share some helpful sneak peeks from each book over the coming weeks. I can't wait to share all this great information with you!

They'll be available January 15th.  Do something for yourself, or for someone you love.  These books will be referred to again and again!

Pre-order The Healing Power of Herbs here:
Pre-order The Herbal Medicine Cookbook here:

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Ginger Shortbread

Excerpt from Holiday Sweets with Exotic Herbs
originally published in the Nov/Dec '15 Essential Herbal Magazine
by Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Gingerbread seems to be a staple of the holiday, but it is not one of my favorite things.  In fact I do not even like making gingerbread houses!  I know sacrilegious, but I do like ginger and I love this great recipe for shortbread that uses crystallized ginger that will bring the flavor of the holiday to a traditional tea treat.

Ginger Shortbread
3 ½ C flour, plus extra for dusting while rolling dough
1 t ground ginger
½ t salt
12 T butter
½ C confectioners sugar
3 rounded T slightly crystallized honey

¾ C crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Sift together the flour, ground ginger, and salt.  Rub in the butter and stir in the sugar.  Mix in the honey and chopped crystallized ginger and form into stiff dough.  Knead lightly in the bowl. 
Halve the dough and roll out each piece on a lightly floured board to make an 8-inch circle.  Score wedges into the shortbread with a sharp knife and prick the top with a fork. 
Bake at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until crisp and golden around the edges.  Sprinkle with a bit of confectioners sugar and leave to cool slightly before breaking apart and allowing to cool completely.