Saturday, June 08, 2024

Extra! May/June 2024

 Our little Extras became more than we expected.  Originally they were going to be a single recipe with a note, or perhaps a puzzle and a tea blend to try. Maybe a short video showing how to do something... It was never quite that simple though, Not a one was ever that small. 

 In this issue, we had a great discussion of what wild food and medicine plants are available right now, in Rebekah Bailey's ongoing series  "A Year in Foraging."
I wrote about how wet it's been here and how it has effected the garden. 
We included our favorite recipe and instructions for elderflower fritters.
AND we had a crossword puzzle and a word find puzzle.
Not a bad little tidbit.  

The Extras are only available to subscribers. 
We put the first 2 years together in (and we'll be needing to change this title) ALL THE EXTRAS,
and after the new year we'll be putting together another 2 years. 

  That's the only way you can read them if you aren't a subscriber. 

Subscribe today!

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Generational Herbal Education

People often ask how I got into herbs.  I often wonder how one could NOT be into herbs, to be honest.  I played under pine trees, using the dropped needles to stuff between the sticks that formed the walls of our forts.  We wandered the woods with our grandfather, where he found wild fruit and shared information about plants he knew.  We gardened, grew food and flowers, and my sister and I went through the succulent craze in the 1970s together.  Let's face it.  If you think about it, plants are in every aspect of life if we notice them. 
Fast forward to the early 1990s when we opened our herb shop at the renaissance festival. 

At the time, there were very few options for learning about herbs.  There weren't even many books, but like just about anyone who starts really diving into the many wonders of herbs, we picked up Rosemary Gladstar's books.  She taught us the basic how-tos of creating herbal products, and we loved jumping off from her recipes to produce wondrous things for our shop. 
Over the years, available learning options improved.  We read at least 100 books and took every class that came available to us locally. Eventually I started The Essential Herbal magazine, and my sister (now retired) started a wholesale soap company, Lancaster County Soapworks, Etc.  I've even written (or edited) quite a few books myself.

I always wished that I had some kind of certificate.  Over the past 30 years, I just felt unfinished.
My daughter Molly grew up as an herbie kid.  She could be found in the meadow with onion grass hanging from her little lips.  She found relief in chamomile and licorice root.  She learned how to look for things like plantain for stings and aloe for burns.
When she graduated from college, the plan was to come to work on the magazine with me.  The very first thing I did was sign her up for Rosemary's "The Science & Art of Herbalism"course.  She set to work on the course and enjoyed all the projects that were a part of the homework for each section.  She loved it, and it gave her solid footing.  Here is her review of the course.  Mama's wisdom only goes so far when you're in your 20's and 30's...  Later she went on to take another 9 month course with Susan Hess, and then apprenticed with Susanna Reppert for 2 years.  Can I just say that I envy this kid???
As it turned out, the big wide world beckoned, and Molly heeded the call.  She's done some traveling, and I can't blame her one bit.  Some day the herbs will call her back to them.  

After her first "14er" mountain hike in Colorado.  A 14er is 14K feet in elevation.

I decided it was time for me to have an herbal diploma/certificate and also enrolled in "The Science & Art of Herbalism"course.  There were still things that were new to me after all these years.  My sister took it at the same time and it was really fun to work on the homework projects together. 
I am very proud to have my certificate!

Herbs will never not be my focus in life, and I'll never be done learning. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Essential Herbal May/June 2024

 The latest issue:
Click here for single issue or subscription.

Table of Contents

Crossword Puzzle

How does your garden grow?  Tidbits about your favorite herbs will help solve this one.

Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams  
Has your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone changed lately?  I can barely keep track!

About the Cover
The Lunaria shines like jewels in the garden, beckoned on by the recent eclipse no doubt!

Introducing Children to Culinary Herbs, Alicia Allen
A delicious and easy array of recipes to help kids discover the flavors of different herbs.

A Year of Foraging - May, Rebekah Bailey
This month Rebekah discusses ramps (and the proper harvesting techniques), garlic mustard, toothwort, and waterleaf varieties.  What a fun neighbor she would be!

DIY Instant Herbal Tea, Jessicka Nebesni
Convenient ice cubes that can go into a glass of water and magically turn it into tea!

12 Edible Flowers for Your Garden, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh  
Lots of choices for eating your way through the flower garden, and a lovely Goat Cheese Spread to enjoy with Honeysuckle Vodka Lemoonade.

May Day Traditional Celebrations, Jackie Johnson ND
Learn about the ancient lore and celebrations of the First of May.  From bonfires to feasts, kings and queens, Maypoles, and baskets to the green man, there are many ways and reasons to welcome May.

Virgin Mojito - Hot Process Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Luscious soap that was formulated to be reminiscent of the renowned beverage.  There’s even a recipe to make your own mojitos (with rum) by the glass or by the pitcher!

Plants to Try This Year, Kathy Musser
A quartet of plants to try in the garden for beauty, flavor, or medicine.

Word Find, What’s in this Issue?

The Many Uses of Red Clover, Kristine Brown, RH(AHG)
Full Monograph, including instructions for an infusion.  Kristine includes the tale of how Red Clover Came to Be.

Herbal Wood Sealant for Garden Tools, Amy Jeanroy
Gardeners take their tools seriously, and caring for the wooden handles is an important part of that care.

Yarrow, Tina Sams
Continuing with our attempt to include interesting information on yarrow in every issue of  yarrow’s reign as Herb of the Year™.

Meet Our Contributors 

Get yours!

Friday, February 23, 2024

Essential Herbal, March/April 2024 issue

The newest issue is out, and it's full of wonder and just a tiny taste of spring!  As the articles rolled in I was more and more thrilled to see the variety and originality displayed.  I know I've said this many times, but after 20+ years, I still learn things from every issue.  That's pretty special.  Here's what you'll find inside:

Single Issue


Crossword Puzzle, Tina Sams
On the Verge of Spring 

Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
Do you notice the same trend that I do?  Welcome back to the enjoyment of herbs!

About the Cover, Maryanne Schwartz
Our favorite place to find drifts of wild flowers.

Teasel, Jackie Johnson ND
About the plant and its use against Lyme disease

A Year of Foraging, Rebekah Bailey
Mushrooms, hickory, and wild onions were this month’s finds.

Lovely Lavender, Alicia Allen
10 scrumptious ways to add lavender to food.

Burdock, Kristine Brown, RH(AHG)
All about this lush, generous plant.

Forest Bathing, Justin Ferko 
Have you wondered how to engage with the peaceful woods?

Foraging for Fluffballs, Amy Jeanroy
(… and by fluffballs, she means hamsters!)

Steeping Herbal Teas, Kathy Musser
How to obtain that perfectly brewed cup.

Spring Revival Herbal Tisane, Amy Jeanroy
As the plants come back to life, it feels like we do too.

Crystal Almond Bundt Cake, Marci Tsohonis
Almond, citrus, and cake – what more could you wish for?

Word Find Puzzle, Tina Sams
All about this issue and more

Lessons Learned, Marci Tsohonis
Healing our own patch of earth.

A Slice of Summer Now, Marci Tsohonis
A lemon cream tart that transports you into the sunshine.

Seaweeds in the Herbal Kitchen, Kristy Bredin 
There are many excellent reasons to include seaweed in your dishes.

Elderberry Pruning, Rebekah Bailey
How to take care of AND propagate your elderberry bushes

Using Lavender to Brighten Your Days, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Lavender beads and firestarters are fragrant crafts that are fun to make.

Meet our Contributors  The wonderful group who shares their knowledge and stories.

For the Next Issue, ideas for writers and what to look forward to.

Single Issue

 Subscriptions include 6 regular issues and 6 mini issues, so you receive something special in your email on the 20th of every month!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The First Few Days of February


The First Few Days of February

Falling midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, the beginning of February brings the return of light and life to the Northern Hemisphere.  There are many celebrations covering a variety of spiritual traditions. 

Imbolc, a Gaelic word that means “ewe’s milk” is a Celtic feast day that signifies the beginning of spring. 

It has been widely observed by Gaels for centuries and it begins on the first evening of February, ending on the second.  Additionally, Feb 2 is Brigid’s feast.  In ancient beliefs, Brigid is a goddess.  Later, there is Saint Brigid, the founder of the first monastery in County Kildare in Ireland, born in 450 AD of a pagan father and a Christian mother.  Both the goddess and the saint are associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and blacksmithing.  As  goddess of the hearth, the goddess is equated to Greco-Roman Hestia-Vesta, and there is an eternal fire that burns in her honor.  Holy wells were visited, spring cleaning begins, and fire and light are part of the celebration.

is a Christian holy day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, ending Christmas celebrations 40 days after Christmas.  Many modern folks take down their holiday decorations on New Year’s Day, others wait until the 12th night, and still others wait for Candlemas. It is also a time to take candles to the church to be blessed, mostly a symbolic act in these days of electricity, but the candles of an entire year were blessed on Candlemas.

February 2 is Groundhog Day, and in PA, that’s a pretty big deal.   

When I was little, I really believed that the groundhog knew.  Maryanne’s husband’s birthday is Feb 1, otherwise known as Groundhog Day eve. If the groundhog sees his shadow (sunny day) he will be frightened and go back to sleep for 6 weeks.  If it’s cloudy, he stays out of the burrow and winter is declared over.
It is also when the Gaelic Cailleach gathers firewood for the rest of the winter.  If she is asleep, she doesn’t make the weather bright and clear so that she can gather plenty, so the hope is for clouds.


In 2024, the Chinese Lunar New Year is on February 10, and in China it is celebrated through February 17th, and ushers in the year of the Wood Dragon.   

The date is different each year, as it coincides with the new moon.  There is much feasting with unusual or hard to find delicacies, and families gather to begin the year together.  Here on the hill, we found some moon cakes and have them waiting in the freezer!

  I often think of how happy people must have been to see the light returning!  I can artificially light my environment, and am very glad of it. 
There are many, many traditional celebrations attached to all of these days, so if you’d like to start a new family tradition, perhaps you’d like to choose one and research the history and festival/feasts.

A craft that goes back centuries can be done together with the family, or as a group of friends. Here is a nice tutorial:

For your feast…

In late winter/early spring, available food is what has been stored over the winter. To celebrate any of these feasts, try to choose dishes that work with that.  Farm animals are “freshening” by giving birth, renewing their milk supply. Dried fruit and flavorful nuts and seeds are available. Root cellars kept apples, onions, garlics, potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkins, some cruciferous vegetables. A few greens could be found in sheltered areas.

Seed Cake
This is a traditional spicy pound cake that is served without icing.  Although caraway seeds are traditional, fennel, sesame, pumpkin, poppy, coriander, sunflower, or others can be added or substituted.

1 C butter softened (2 sticks)
1 C granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 C flour
1 T caraway seeds
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 C brandy
4 t 10X sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°.
Line a 9 x 12 pan with parchment, OR grease well.
In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl with each egg.

In a second bowl, blend dry ingredients.
Add half of the dry ingredients to the first bowl, stirring well.
Add the brandy and combine.
Add the remaining dry ingredients, blending just until mixed well.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
When cool, sift the 10X sugar over the top.

Imbolc Incense

Make a loose incense to celebrate the new spring and growing season that’s around the corner.  While blending the ingredients, focus on what you’d like to see.  Abundant gardens, happy family, prosperity – anything at all, just as you might at the new year.

2 parts Cedar
1 part Copal
1 part Basil
1 part Dragons Blood
½  part Lemon Peel
½ part Chamomile

You can substitute anything that represents fire or renewal to you.  For instance:
red santal
You almost can’t go wrong.  To burn, place a pinch of the mixture on a smoldering charcoal block.  Add more when it stops smoking if desired.

If any of these holidays are new to you, I urge you to learn more about them.  We can all use more celebrations in our lives, and there are lots of reasons to have them!

Note:  After the newsletter went out, we heard from our friend Justin Ferko. 
Here is another celebration from the Slavic world taking place at the same time: Gromnice, Our Lady of the Thunder Candle/Our Lady of the Wolves: 

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Vegan Wax AromaTarts


Vegan Wax AromaTarts

Marci Tsohonis
Essential Herbal Magazine January/February 2019 


Candles and scents help me feel cozy hibernating indoors during this gray, cold time of the year.   I have never made candles, but friends often gift me with the good essential oil candles and the flameless wax candles that look real.  One friend gave me a wax tart melter with some lovely Lemon Verbena scented soy wax tarts.  Swoon!  I’ve been addicted to them ever since.  The wax tarts made with essential oils are surprisingly hard to find, at least in towns near me, and they are not cheap.  The ones made with fragrance oil smell great in the package, but the scent changes during the melting.  I decided to make my own wax tarts without using Bee’s wax despite it being my favorite wax.   Bees are dwindling in numbers and working hard enough already.  Warning, OCD tangent just ahead!  It could be contagious. 

 My supply shelves held Bee’s wax, Candelilla wax and Carnauba wax, but no Soy wax, and after a bit of research on soy wax, I decided not to order any.  In researching waxes for the tarts, I found several references suggesting that soy candle wax is solvent extracted from genetically modified soy seed grown with pesticides.  It is grown by just a handful of growers, including Monsanto, and only in the United States.  I love the smokeless properties of soy candles, but I can’t un-see that research now.  Unless something more positive comes to light, I will personally pass on using soy wax for now. 

Candelilla wax is extracted from Euphorbia cerifera, a shrub native to Mexico.  It is a cosmetic astringent, emulsion stabilizer, and does have a scent, though it does not seem unpleasant to me.  Think of an extremely mild scent of honey and resin, or maybe honey and camphor.  I could not detect the wax scent at all in the sample tarts I made.   References to Candelilla wax suggest it is a low hazard wax.

Carnauba wax is harvested from the leaves of the Coepernicia prunifers palm tree in Brazil.  It is one of the hardest natural waxes.  It is commonly used in commercial waxes and polishes, and to coat pills and candies, because of its durable nature and high luster.

Virgin Coconut oil hardly needs an explanation.  The benefits in food and skincare are legion.  It is made from the fresh coconut meat of the coconut palm tree that grows in tropical climates.   It retains the fresh coconut scent and is high in lauric acid.   Refined coconut oil (copra) is made from the scraped, dried fruits of the same tree and is widely used in soap making and other skincare applications.   

Mountain Rose Herbs had a guest candle recipe post on their blog containing Carnauba and Coconut oil.  I always have coconut oil on hand, so I measured out equal parts Carnauba and virgin coconut oil.  Carnauba takes a long time to melt.  The finished tart was so hard it hadn’t melted in 50 minutes over the low heat of the melting dish. 


It obviously was not suitable for wax tarts.  After seeing how hard that wax combo was, it makes sense that it would burn cleanly with a candle flame, and would not distort or collapse as happens with softer candles.  


I scaled down a wax tart recipe with bee’s wax and coconut oil that I found online, but substituted Candelilla for the bee’s wax.  Candelilla is generally a good vegan substitute for bee’s wax, with similar melting temps, yet much harder.  The finished tart was way too soft. 

The mad scientist in me surfaced.  The chicken breasts I was going to make for dinner went back in the refrigerator.  Dinner was not happening that night.  I filled every votive container I had with various increments of Candelilla and V Coconut oils.  I labeled each votive.  As the wax hardened, I noticed hairline cracks on some of the wax clinging to the sides of the jars.

The next votive was bee’s wax and coconut oil, made so I could compare the sheeting of various combinations.  I wanted lovely scent, so I added a half an eyedropper of a Lavender and Rosemary essential oil blend to each 1 oz. votive of melted wax.  I hoped to end up with a tart that wouldn’t fingerprint with handling.

I made a new batch of votives, reversing all the previous wax and oil ratios with a higher rate of V Coconut to Candelilla.  Two of the newer pours coated the votives without cracking, similar to Bee’s wax.  I melted them in the warmer, one at a time, and took notes.  I tried to melt the bee’s wax and coconut tart, but part of the square imprint still remained after an hour of melting.   It smelled glorious, though.

Only three tarts made the final cut for me, and I liked each of them for different reasons. 


3:1 – V. Coconut/Candelilla  - The tart looked firm and shiny, but melted completely in 25-30 minutes.  The scent from the coconut oil and essential oils held wonderfully.  The downside was the shiny surface smudged pretty easily with handling.  All in all, for my own use, and carefully stored, these would probably be my first choice.

2:1 – V. Coconut/Candelilla – Firm and shiny, it melted in 35 minutes.  Less sensitive to smudging when handled quickly and the scent was wonderful. 

1:1 – V. Coconut/Candelilla – Firm, shiny, and fully melted in 40 minutes.  No nicks or smudges!  The EO scent held ok, though was less pronounced than the above 2 tarts.  These would be likely to hold up well even if stacked together in cello bags.

The formulas with higher ratios of Candelilla wax looked great, and there were no visible cracks in the tarts themselves, but they were disappointing overall.  The melt took too long.

Some EO blend suggestions:

Lemongrass, Ginger and Vetiver

Rose Geranium, Lavender and Frankincense

Bois de Rose, Geranium and Patchouli

Bergamot, Patchouli and Almond

Lavender, Juniper and Rosemary


Enjoy!  Marci