Friday, November 17, 2023

Packaging for Handmade Herbal Goodies!

 We spend a lot of time coming up with things for our subscribers (and blog readers) to make - especially gifts at this time of year.  Coincidentally, my sister and I are going through the shelves of packaging that we've accumulated over the years.  We're offering it to you for your very special creations.  

I expect this clearing out to continue, but if you see something, don't delay.  We don't have a LOT of anything.  20 for most, 100 for a few - that's it. 
We will be correcting the shipping amounts when your order goes out, so if it seems high for 6 little bottles or jars, there will most likely be a refund.  We will NEVER charge more.
Everything costs the same - 50 cents a piece. 
Check it out here:  Essential Herbal

Saturday, November 11, 2023

About Sumac


The Essential Herbal Magazine
 from the Nov/Dec 2014 issue

As I write this all of the leaves are off the trees and the beautiful flowers of the handsome native sumacs really catch your eye along our Pennsylvania roadsides.  Sumac is pronounced Shoomak or Sumach according to Mr Webster.   This stately tree ornamented with huge velvety and showy wildflowers can be enjoyed in a variety of ways indoors and out.  

Native plants that have been growing here for thousands of years are tough.  They have built in durability, disease and insect resistance.  Sumacs also have the ability to survive roadside dust and air pollution.  Grown in even moderately good conditions they will be even more beautiful than in the wild.  Not often recommended for gardens anymore, I had to go back as far as the 1972 US Dept Agriculture “Landscape for Living” Yearbook to find it written as a landscape feature for poor soil with a wide range of adaptability.   Appropriate for zones 5-9.  I have to warn you to beware as it can become a bit of a weed tree.   

Plant of poor dry soil, sandy waste places, rocky hillsides, on the fringes of weeds and clearings, it is easily grown by seed, popping up in sunny spots along every new cut in the roads.  It is particularly valuable as a nurse tree, appearing soon after fires.  Fast growing Sumac rebuilds the soil and protects other seedling forests trees, which will follow and eventually take over.

I have noticed many of the books in my library shy away from talking about sumac.  Why?  Most authors seem to avoid sumac automatically assuming it is “poison sumac” and dreadful mistakes will be made.   


Although only the white berried forms Rhus radicans or poison ivy, and  Rhus vernix, which grows in swampy situations, are poisonous, all sumacs are maligned by this reputation.  This one unattractive cousin of the family with droopy white berries is usually found in inaccessible places and it is virtually impossible to confuse the good plant with the bad.  Regardless both seem to be addressed as “poisonsumac” as if it were only one word and one species.

There are many species of Rhus and every one of the red berried spires whether it is hot pink or maroon is edible and usable in bouquets both fresh and dried! Gather it to create wreaths, dried bouquets or boil the berries to make a tart pink lemonade or to use as a dye bath for woolens or linens.  Use it as a home remedy or season Indian and Middle Eastern Foods with the crushed red berries.

The genus Rhus (family Anacardiaceae) is a rugged one with shrubs and trees scattered over the world, growing everywhere but the Polar Regions.  Rhus, the Greek word for Sumac, includes poison ivy, the noxious vine as well as Rhus Cotinus, our lovely smoke tree with showy pink-gray clouds of “smoke” appearing in the old fashioned garden in the fall.  

It all includes all of the red-berried sumacs which are guaranteed safe to pick and eat.  The two dominant varities are the satiny smooth Rhus glabra and the staghorn or hairy Rhus typhinum, both grow to 18-20 feet in height.  The soft wooly texture of the flowers is due to the miniscule hairs covering each berry.  Break off the flowers early in the season for the best color and flavor. 

Our American Indians valued this plant using it as a gargle for sore throats, as an antiseptic poultice for sounds, as a tonic and as an astringent – it’s most valuable property. It is recorded that they chewed the root for mouth sores and a dressing of fresh leaves and berries relieves the itch of its cousin poison ivy.

To make the pretty pink Lemonade, wash then pound several heads of red sumac berries in a large enamel pot of water.  Boil for 10 minutes, then strain through a cloth to remove the hairs.  Dilute and sweeten to taste and serve at once as it doesn’t keep well.  If you collect and dry the berries while still velvety, this pleasant citrusy drink can be made at any time all winter long.

 Additionally it was used as a dye plant for fibers, hair and skin.  Used as an ingredient in Za’tar Spice, this amazing plant has a long international history of uses.  And no, it’s not poisonous. 


Susanna Reppert Brill of The Rosemary House, Mechanicsburg, PA enjoys talking about herbs and riding a good zip line, but not necessarily at the same time.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Taking Tea - and Superstitions at Sweet Remembrances

 When we took a good look at the 2023 calendar for events, this tea jumped right off the page and we signed up months ago.  We weren't disappointed. We found ourselves seated at our old class table from A Way of Life Herbal Class taught by Susanna of The Rosemary House, and one of our classmates was there, along with several other interesting companions.  I'm not saying we were at the best table, but we were at the best table.
Each of us were able to choose our own small pot of tea.  I chose Vanilla Sugar Cookie.  

 There was a menu on the table that was very cleverly put together, weaving superstitions in with the creative offerings. 

I forgot to take a picture of the Copper Pennies, but it was a delicious salad of carrot slices, cauliflower, and onions with lettuce garnish.  The sweet dressing made this dish amazing.

Starting from the left (9 o'clock) is Green Apple and Cheddar Cheese Chicken Salad, Peach and Brie Tea Sandwich, Cucumber with Garlic Cheese Spread Sandwich, Maple Cream on Pumpkin Raisin Bread, and finally Radish Rounds with Parsley Butter.  The Blackberry Jalapeno Jam and Cream Tartlet is held above the plate.  Our table discussed whether it was making us feel like arguing amongst ourselves as was mentioned in the menu.
I was shocked to find that the radish and butter was my favorite (and I liked them all).  I will be eating that at home.  Who would have thought?  

There has never been a bad scone come out of the magical kitchen of Sweet Remembrances.  

I was pretty full by the time the desserts got to the table, so enjoyed the umbrella cookie and the banana cream pie, but saved the truffle for later.

Then it was time for the talk.  Rissa Miller is a consummate speaker, completely at ease and knows her subject matter inside out. 

 She set about explaining the origin of many superstitions.  Maryanne and I had a mother who was as reasonable as the day is long, but would do a lot of things to avoid leaving a building through a different door than the one she used to enter, and she once gave me an icy glare for opening an umbrella indoors.  We won't even discuss placing a hat on the bed.  We don't know where these came from, or why, although during the discussion, Rissa explained that in the Victorian era, umbrellas were not the flimsy things they are today.  One could accidentally impale someone standing too close.  
Being so close to Halloween, there were lots of correlations to witches and werewolves and silver and graves.  
All in all, a great afternoon!

Friday, November 03, 2023

Immunity Stew

 I was writing an article for the upcoming Extra about how to "herb up" lots of dishes over the winter for health and thought about this stew.  It was published in my book on emotional health.  We sometimes forget how intertwined all of our systems are, and how staying strong and vibrant by taking good care of ourselves is reflected in everything we think and feel.