Saturday, April 24, 2021

Hiking Take-Alongs

 3rd excerpt from the 4/21/21 Just the Essentials.  Almost time to start a new one!

Hiking Take-Alongs
A lot of us have been staying off the trails for a while. I've spoken to several health care providers over the last few months, and they tell me that they are seeing tons of muscle/joint injuries from our collective lack of motion and weight gain. Now that we're feeling more confident about getting out there, please keep in mind that it's a good idea to start slowly and you'll quickly work up to what used to be normal.
In case you've forgotten what you used to throw in the backpack, here are some suggestions:

Depending on the elevation and time of year, the temperature can fluctuate greatly in 15 minutes. Be aware of predictions and dress appropriately and in layers.  Our kids are more like siblings than cousins, and they have found a particular shirt that has a particular fabric and texture that it is comfortable over a wide range of temps.  It isn't available online, and it's about as easy to find as a unicorn, but the shirt also has a large front pouch/pocket.  Very handy for hiking.

Here they are wearing said shirts while giving me the universal signal for, "Isn't it almost time for you to go home?  Stop taking pics, or I swear you'll wear this coffee!"

~Field Guide (or phone app)
I have strong reservations about phone apps. It's important to learn the most useful food and medicinal plants around you. At exactly the moment when we'll most need to be able to find them, most likely power will be out. Depending on anything that requires electricity during a crisis is short-sighted. If you like to use a plant ID phone app, please then go on to learn the plant by sight and memory.  We've generally used the Peterson Guides, but there are many others available.  Some free phone apps:  PlantNet, iNaturalist, or PlantSnap.

~Walking Sticks
While visiting my daughter in CO the autumn before the pandemic, I noticed people using walking sticks out on the trails. They look "adventurous" and "seasoned" instead of old and wobbly (my usual look). My sister and I have some trouble out here walking in the fields because they are uneven and although the land is flat-ish, the sticks are helpful here. On hills, they are even better. The ones I got are easily adjusted for height and have 3 other "feet" for snow, paved surfaces, etc.

I Googled "walking sticks" and found these at Dick's. They were about $25 and may be a great Mother's Day gift idea.

~Water and high energy snacks
Always have hydration available. We need hydration and calories in order to finish that walk that may have gotten a little longer than we expected, and both food and water enable us to think straight as well as keep walking.

Always with a water bottle.  Sunglasses are a good call, too.

~Bug spray!
Doing research for naming and labeling is one of the yuckiest parts of what we do. Oddly, it is illegal to use the word "repellent" for this type of product, unless it has been through very specific lab testing that nobody smaller than Dow Chemicals can afford. That's a slight exaggeration, but not by much. 
Available HERE

Anyhow, that's why we didn't name or label "Git Spritz" using that terminology. People who use Git Spritz will tell you it works. One of our customers wrote while on the trail halfway across the country, asking for a quick shipment! We love it for everything from skeeters and ticks, and even added a specific essential oil to discourage those gnats that like to help garden in the evenings, and seek to get a little drink your eyes, nose, or mouth! The Git Stick is a solid lotion bar making it great to put around the ankles, behind the neck, where it stays and protects longer. There are a lot of good bug sprays out there. This is ours. (Individual items of kit are available separately)

~Trash Bag
Challenge yourself to leave the trail better than you found it.  Leave nothing behind.  Take only photos. 

Happy Earth Day!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Herbalist's Spring Shopping List

Excerpt from our 4/12/21 "Just the Essentials" Newsletter.  It gets so busy in the spring that if we aren't prepared we can miss things. People are sharing ideas on social media and you will see me running outside with a jar, grabbing buds or twigs to try something new at least once a week. The thrill is never ending!  Be prepared.

Spring Shopping List

Spring is popping out all over the place here. There are a few things you'll want to have on hand for herb-crafting so that you don't miss the herbs when they are at their peaks.

1. Alcohol for tinctures. I usually get 151 proof, because it's a high enough proof for everything, and can be watered down if necessary. 

2. Good Vinegar... You'll want real apple cider vinegar and some good white wine vinegar. The clear vinegar is great for chive, redbud, and nasturtium infusions - so begin with. The apple cider vinegar is great as fruits start ripening and will work well for shrubs and similar hot weather drinks.

3. Honey and/or Maple Syrup will be great for elixirs, and the honey for herbal honey.  Don't forget that sometimes (hard candy, some syrups) you'll need regular, refined sugar.

4. Olive oil, or whatever oil you'd like to use for external (medicinal) and internal (generally food) uses.

5. Bottles and jars to get these concoctions started.
This is a very general list. 

Eventually you'll want things like salts, clays, powdered milk, fancy bottles, droppers, and more.

Since the newsletter went out, I remembered that I always run out of distilled water.  I also use a lot of broth for green soups - so its a good thing to stock up on. Everyone has their own thing that they run out of.  Egg cartons are in high demand right now too!
Here's a start.  HAVE FUN!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

May/June 2021 Essential Herbal Issue - What's In It?

We just sent another issue out to subscribers.  There's lots of great stuff in it and we'll share the table of contents below.  If you're a subscriber, check your email!  If not, it's sure easy enough to subscribe!
We've got lots of other great herbal stuff to window shop, too :-)  HAPPY SPRING

Cover, Carolina Gonzalez
   Gorgeous burst of color and joy is just what we all need right now.

Field Notes, Tina Sams
    We're feeling all kinds of hope and recovery and can't wait to see some herbie faces!

Brunch Celebration, Alicia Allen
     Delicious options for celebrating life's happinesses.

Put the Lime in the Coconut, Marci Tsohonis
     Canna Coconut Gummies - You've got questions, Marci's been doing the hands on research.

Catnip - Not Just for Cats! Kristine Brown, RH (AHG)
     Such a valuable weed, too often overlooked.  Now you'll know.

Eggstravagance, Rebekah Bailey
     Baskets, boxes, and bags of eggs at the Bailey place!

Book Excerpt - The Story of the Gluten Free Kid, Jenel Schaffer
     A mother shares her experiences of getting the family off gluten via stories and fun recipes.

Garden Design (part 2), Kathy Musser
     Lots of options and elements for the variety of colors, heights, and textures of plants in the garden.

How to Substitute Fresh Herbs for Dried Herbs, Jessicka Nebesni
     Use the guideline in an included herb blend recipe!

The Green Man, Jackie Johnson ND
     A poem for the season

Peppercorns, Jackie Johnson ND
     On most kitchen and dining room tables, but what do we know about it?

Vinegar Drinks Class Notes, Maryanne Schwartz and Tina Sams
     We gave this class and the notes make a quick and easy guide.

Wedding Herbs, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
     Flowers and herbs can add much to a wedding, and their meanings enrich sentiment.

Book Excerpt - Ashkenazi Herbalism, Deatra Cohen and Adam Seigel
     Rediscovering the herbal past of a culture is a long, winding path.

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Book Review - Ashkenazi Herbalism

Review from Maryanne Schwartz:

When Tina mentioned we were going to do an excerpt from a new book on Ashkenazi Herbalism, I jumped at the chance to read and review the book. 


My results from 23 & Me were pretty disappointing (total French & German) except for one little .01% of Ashkenazi Jewish DNA. I’d heard the term and was somewhat familiar before because there are certain diseases that seemed to be connected with that heritage. Tay-Sachs disease is the one I remember.

For me, defining the area called “The Pale” where they lived was interesting in itself, and I thought perhaps that was where the phrase “Beyond the Pale” came from, but in further reading I found that the Pale usually refers to agreed upon boundaries where one is safe, so I think it’s the same idea, just that this area was in Russia/Poland/Germany.  I think we more commonly think of it as a ghetto, although ghettos were more like smaller settlements in specific parts of cities. My conclusion in respect to the phrase though, seems to refer to the idea of certain agreed upon limits in general, so if we are beyond the pale, we have passed normal boundaries in speech or action.

It took a lot of sleuthing and research to find the herbal history of the Ashkenazi people, but the author(s) discovered a history and hierarchy that sounded very familiar to the way healers and herbalists and midwives and physicians have developed in our own history:

The old ways remain, but they are pushed aside for the newer ways which are then pushed aside for even newer, and more powerful healers.  The earlier ways are still found to have value by many, even as they are cast aside by the newer, more scientific establishment. We are seeing a bit of this now with the return of respect toward midwives and the widespread acceptance of various supplements by many main-stream medicinal authorities.

Reading through the Materia Medica, the same thing is found to be true with the herbs themselves.  One herb may have been used for something in the past until it is found to possibly be doing more harm than good for that purpose, but that same herb may still contain value for some other afflictions. 

It is interesting to see how the herbs were used - and how their uses may have changed or how they may still be used in the current day. Even though this was across the ocean and many miles, many of the same herbs that we use today are discussed.

Although we are fortunate to be able to have access to the most up to date medicine of the day now, herbs are still so useful for many of the same first aid type occurrences as they were way back when..

Please Note:  The publisher (North Atlantic Books) has provided Essential Herbal readers with a very nice excerpt and a substantial discount code, which will be published in the May/June issue which comes out on April 20.  It is time sensitive, so if you want this book at a GREAT price, heads up!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bring Back May Day Baskets!

 (From the 4/12/21 Just the Essentials Newsletter)

We have a friend who was telling us about how she makes a couple dozen really nice May Day baskets and spends May 1 making people feel special. Actually, she was saying how much fun SHE has doing it more than about how it made other people feel. It has me thinking about who I want to surprise in a couple of weeks with a little basket of goodies!

When I was in elementary school, we always made the baskets every year. Our grandmother was an elementary teacher, and Maryanne remembers dancing around the May Pole at Mimi's school, but I missed that. Bringing those baskets home to give away was so exciting! We only made one at school, so more were made at home. Mrs. Bortzfield and Mrs. Brubaker were older ladies who lived alone, and they were my targets. Mrs. Bortzfield always had candy any time she saw me, and Mrs. Brubaker had a huge zinnia patch outside her kitchen door and always let me take as many as I wanted.

May 1 doesn't always have a lot of flowers around here. Nowadays, there are a lot more bulb flowers like daffs, tulips, and hyacinths, but other than the tiny pansy plants we got at Sunday School for Easter, there weren't many flowers. We were forbidden from touching the dogwoods. 

This led me to searching the woods behind the house. The trees were a mixture of evergreens and hardwood, and that was where I found Dutchmen's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). They dropped me to my knees. I've written about that moment before; it started my fixation with plants. This tiny, perfect string of pants hanging on the line immediately stole my imagination and at 6 or 7 I was certain there were fairies hiding nearby giggling at my amazement. There are a lot of small things that can go in a May Day basket other than flowers. A few pieces of candy, a bar of floral scented soap, a small candle, some incense, some tea... you get the idea! There are a ton of spring crafts for kids (or adults) out there, and this is one that caught my eye:  

         So cute! 

 Some inspiration:

Hand made Baskets

We have a few metal baskets HERE

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Sunday, April 04, 2021

Nettle Corn Chowder

 Yesterday I made the best Nettle soup ever! 

The recipe for my usual green soups depends on what is on hand, so it's unusual for me to write down the recipe - but it was that good.


Cutting without stinging - stick the colander under the leaves you intend to cut.

All the stinging hairs/needles are on the backs of leaves, and the stems.

Some of the ingredients are pre-packaged.  I use potato flakes and broth because there are almost never real potatoes in the house, and there is never enough broth for the amount of soup we eat in the spring.  You can make them from scratch, though. 

The dairy can be subbed too. 

Here we go...

1 T butter
2 T minced onion
1 stalk celery chopped
1 quart fresh nettle leaves
1 small potato, chopped (had here because Easter :-) )
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
1/4 C 1/2 and 1/2
1/2 C corn
2 slices bacon, cooked til crisp
1 quart chicken (or veg) broth
1/2 C instant mashed potatoes

Process the rinsed nettles with about 2 cups of the broth until you get a green slush.
Melt butter in pan.
Sweat onion and celery in the butter.
Add the processed nettle to the pan.
Add chopped egg and potato, and the rest of the broth.
Add corn and whisk in instant potatoes
Add 1/2 and 1/2 and bacon (bits)

Heat thoroughly.  Serve with crackers.  There won't be any left, but just in case, it can be refrigerated.

Just in case you have lots of nettles available, you may want to try this...

As I recall, I did find the nettle TOO strong, so you may want to cut it a little.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Herb Plant Shopping!

Herb Plant Shopping!

Part 2 of our 3/27 newsletter (and an interview below)
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Although most of the spring herb festivals are still not happening this year, it looks like the greenhouses and stores will be open.  Last year we were able to order plants and pick them up without looking at the other plants, smelling the varieties, or getting carried away.  I will be making up for that this year. 

For those looking to start out with a little control (hahahaha, whatever), I thought it might be helpful to share what plants have been or become the most important over the years.  Yours may vary, but this is a bare bones list.  Add as you like!  They are always in my gardens.  In many cases, even if something is supposed to be perennial or expected to reseed, I purchase extras if last year’s look puny, because having too much is not a problem.  

Culinary List:
Parsley – biennial, so plant some every year so there is always some to use.
Thyme – should be perennial, but often requires replacement.
Basil – I like to get Genovese, Lettuce Leaf, and Purple Ruffles for different dishes.  Never too much!
Sage – So delicious with fall dishes and once it’s in the garden, it can find its way into lots of meals.
Rosemary – adds so much to chicken and beef roasts and stews.  Very tender perennial here.

Cilantro – although not for everyone, the coriander is also good.  I LOVE it.  So fresh!
Chives – provides a relatively mild onion-y flavor in dips, salads, side dishes, and potatoes.
Oregano – be careful where you plant this aggressive, delicious pizza herb.
Dill – I didn’t know how much I loved this flavor until there was plenty of it to play with in the kitchen.
Fennel – we love it sliced into salads.  Delicious with orange segments, oil, and a touch of balsamic.
                            Options – marjoram, tarragon, horseradish, garlic
                   Wild seasonings – sassafras, sumac, mints, onions and garlic

Medicinal List:
Calendula – no matter how much we plant, it’s never enough.
Chamomile – considered perennial or reliable reseeders, they often wander off.  Great tea herb!
Rose – we’ve never had enough of this, either. There are so many reasons to grow roses.
Holy Basil – easy to grow and it might be our #1 herb right now.  Emotional equalizer.
Valerian – The roots are usually sought, but we use the blossoms.  They are perennial, but rodents do
          love the roots.

Peppermint – excellent cup of flavor and cheer.  Choose Spearmint for stomach issues.
Lavender – gentle, relaxing, and offers so much to us from fragrance to sleep.  I’ve learned that they                         aren’t as perennial as we’d hope.  I try to plant one or two every year, just in case.
Lemon Balm – delicious, so fragrant, relaxing, and easy to grow.
Echinacea – reliable perennial that reseeds.  We use the whole plant, only pulling up the roots on the                    plants that stray out of the garden.
California poppy – this has just joined the garden in the last decade, since sleep isn’t as easy as it once                      was.  Reseeds easily, but occasionally needs to be replaced.  

       Other options:  Elder, Saint John’s wort, Catnip, Feverfew, Horehound… don’t get me started. 

Jenel Schaffer from Sheep Hill Herbs interviewed me on several things - including favorite herbs.


Thursday, April 01, 2021

Ah ah ah CHOO!!!

The other day I was trimming the yews underneath the front windows, and although I rarely have a problem with seasonal allergies, they gave me an issue!  

A shower to wash off the pollen and some Snuffles tea set me right, but not everyone is so easily soothed.

(excerpt from 3/27/21 "Just the Essentials" free newsletter - sign up on our website)

Lancaster County is known for the allergens in the air.  We live on a tree farm surrounded by corn, wheat, and soybean fields, so we watched our kids suffer from spring until the first frost.   Maryanne’s son would try to go out and help his Dad with the Christmas trees, but tiny scratches from the needles would leave huge welts and hives.  My daughter Molly didn’t experience that, thank goodness, and loved working with the trees after they’d gone into dormancy. 

We tried for years to find natural solutions to their allergies.  We could sometimes find comfort for the symptoms, but the allergies weren’t going anywhere.  They moved to the west coast and for the first time in their lives the warm sun didn’t come with runny noses and weepy eyes.

I’m wondering if wearing masks helped people, having seen people mow lawns wearing masks in years past.  It would be nice to find that now that we all have masks, we could head off some of the pollen allergies!

Of all the things I tried for Molly, local bee pollen was the most effective for her.  Everyone is different, but that was the best for her.  We always have lots of nettles in the spring, along with other wild greens, but didn’t notice much difference in the allergies.  Some people find that nettles (tea, tincture, or as a side dish) help.

She loves our Snuffles tea.  Being a water babe, she also really enjoys hot baths with Eucalyptus Spice tub tea and it helps clear her sinuses.  Everything in the Sinus Comfort Set makes her feel better, and using licorice root sticks soothes the sore throats from post-nasal drip.

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