Thursday, May 26, 2016

Plant Allies (or How I Came to Know Comfrey)

When I first began 'formally' studying herbs about 15 years ago, I was tasked with choosing a plant that was near my home, close enough to see daily, to ally with. My favorite definition of ally is, "to combine or unite a resource or commodity with (another) for mutual benefit" (thanks Google). I was to sit with this plant, to breath its air, talk to it, study with it, and otherwise make it an integral part of my everyday life for my entire course of study.

At the time, I hadn't really considered that this sort of thing was actually possible, even though I had felt it for most of my life. I can remember leaving high school on late spring afternoons and nodding or speaking to the dandelions which had returned to the grounds outside the building. Further back ... playing in the soft sand driveway of my grandparent's home and smiling or laughing at (with) the 4 o'clocks blooming nearby in the shade at the end of a long summer day. They meant something to me. More than a pretty face to admire, more than a delicious fragrance to enjoy passing by. More than witnesses. They were living, breathing players in the script of my life.

Later on, plants would take a backseat to adulthood, deadlines, and financial burdens. They became simple eye candy, romantic gifts, or tools for improving curb appeal. Weeds were annoying, invasive things that destroyed lawns and free time.

And so it is for most folks that the magic of childhood inevitably is crushed under the weight of burdened adult lives. Myths, folklore, legends and strange tales drift out of memory while we struggle to enjoy the fruits of our labor and along the way, the laughter of the 4 o'clocks is lost. But not forever. Not for me.

We had just moved across the road to a small house on a beautiful, wooded piece of family farm land when I accepted the plant ally challenge and it so happened that there was a large, interesting, but unidentified plant directly beside our new front porch steps. A weed, I presumed, prickly and thick, but it spoke to me. I pulled up the grass around it so it could stretch out. My mother in law informed me the plant was 'Comfrey' (Russian Comfrey, or Symphytum x uplandicum, I later discovered, which does not re-seed but will spread quite prolifically when and where the roots are disturbed), and she had quite a nice patch of it in her yard, as well.

Pull up a bit of Comfrey by the root, toss it on the ground, and voilĂ ! You have almost certainly started yourself a brand new patch.

Every day from then on in the comings and goings of my new life, Comfrey would change me in ways I never dreamed possible.

My plant ally challenge became a cool drink of water in the heat of my studies. Anatomy and physiology, phytochemistry, medical terminology, online lectures and essays, etc., etc., all interesting and exciting to me but I longed for breaks to sit and relax with my patient new green friend out by the front steps. And not only did I sit with her ... I talked to her, about everything. Yes, you read that right. I admit at first it was a bit odd, even for me, but I was persistent and it quickly became comfortable, and something I looked forward to. I learned some very important lessons during those visits. Lessons that came during the perfect time, about patience, and the peace found in stillness and quiet introspection, followed by a deeper understanding and appreciation of "Other" ... or all that which is not me. That it's okay to not be in control of or micromanage every aspect of my personal world. I learned about the value of ALL LIFE, and the joy of living what I came to refer to as 'Macro', or outside and above myself and my small, ordinary life. To this day, when I find myself mired in the pits of everyday drama, the thought comes unbidden to me ... "Macro". Rise above. SEE.

I took photos and drew pictures and read everything I could get my hands on about Comfrey. History, cultivation, botany, medicinal uses, folklore, you name it. I learned how to harvest and dry Comfrey and made medicine with her aerial parts. Medicine that is invaluable to me now and always will be, and it began with one forgotten plant waiting patiently by my front door. You don't need to study hundreds or even dozens of plants to be an herbalist. Pick a plant that means something or is interesting to you - it doesn't matter how or why - and study everything you can find about it. It will prepare you for an exciting, magical, lifelong journey in herbalism. Yes, I really mean it.

The bulk of my Comfrey medicine begins with infused oil: I use two different methods for infusing Comfrey in cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, which I prefer for its impressive resistance to rancidity and because it naturally contains vitamins, essential fatty-acids, and antioxidants. First is the easy peasy folk method: Pack a glass jar (I make it by the quart) with the freshly dried leaves, stalks, and flowers, cover with oil, gently press out air bubbles with a butter knife or spoon, cap, let sit for about six weeks in a sunny window, and give it a poke or stir every once in a while. Strain through cheesecloth when it's ready, bottle it up, and don't forget to label/date it. That's it. The second method involves heating the oil and plant material in a double boiler over very low heat for about 48 hours, turning the heat off at night and allowing it to cool in the pot. Strain, bottle, and label. I prefer the plant material freshly dried because Comfrey is a juicy girl who smells pretty foul when processed, and drying seems to lessen not only the odor but cuts way down on the chances that your oil will contain rot-inducing water. Yay! Adding a few drops of good quality vitamin E oil (another natural antioxidant) will also extend the life of your infusion.

I have used Comfrey oil for many things, including superficial skin wounds, blisters, bruises, pregnant bellies, diaper rash, sore nipples from breastfeeding, and on my own daughter's eczema. It is easily made into a powerfully healing skin salve by gently melting in .25 (+/-) oz beeswax per 1 oz of oil. Comfrey is an important part of our muscle and joint pain salve, 'Elbow Grease', made with descendants of the very plant I found by my front door on that fateful day. I also love to add Plantain Leaf (Plantago spp.), Yarrow Leaf/Flower (Achillea millefolium), and Chickweed (Stellaria media) oils to make a versatile, all-purpose skin salve. Have fun with it. The weeds in your area are quite useful ... dare I say important ... but that's for another post.

I guess I should mention that there has been some controversy over the internal use of Comfrey, which contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which may cause severe liver damage when consumed in extremely large doses. Those last three words being the operative thing to note here, although I should also mention that the FDA has officially declared it unsafe for internal use. I really do not want to get into a debate about it here, but you must do your OWN research and decide for yourself if you want to use Comfrey internally. I personally have no desire to inject myself with an isolated compound made from the roots (where the highest concentration of PAs in Comfrey are found) of any plant from any laboratory. I also do not wish to drink copious amounts of Comfrey infusion or tea, as I simply don't enjoy the taste. However, I have ingested cultivated Comfrey leaf infusion on several occasions with no ill effects. Quite the opposite, actually, specifically during bouts of respiratory illness. We make and sell Comfrey Tincture in the store at Red Barn, used internally by drops, with great success I might add for tissue and bone healing. I'm not advising, either way.

Comfrey is also known as, Knitbone, or **Boneset, because it contains a substance called ‘allantoin’ that is able to accelerate cellular mitosis, meaning it speeds the process of new tissue growth. Pretty cool, huh?

To me, Comfrey signifies not only healing, but stability and grounding. The feeling of security that
comes from familiarity, the permanence of family ties, and lifelong friendships. A sturdy, loving grandma who tends your wounds but demands your respect. I hope you'll consider growing some of your own, if you're able. She blooms so beautifully (as you can see in the pics above), and is such a lovely addition to any place.

If you see her, give her a nod and a smile from me :-)

**Also the common name of a local favorite, Eupatorium perfoliatum. Which leads me to note that I cannot stress enough the importance of correct botanical identification and proper labeling of plant medicine! Relying on common names will get you into a lot of trouble.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ten Culinary Herbs & Their Uses

Notes from the Jackson County Master Gardener class on culinary herbs, 2015.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. Be as creative as you like with herbs ... you never know what your favorite flavor or combination is until you try it.


(Petroselinum crispum). Apiacaea family (Fennel, Caraway, Queen Anne's Lace, etc). Biennial, or annual in subtropic/tropic climates.
Parts Used: Leaf & Root
Characteristics: Deep green, slightly serrated leaves with a potent fragrance reminiscent of carrot leaves and parsnips. Has aromatic, hollow stems. Take great care when identifying in the wild. Lookalikes can be very dangerous
Planting/harvest: Full to part sun, loamy soil. Water evenly throughout summer. Dry leaves or freeze 'parsley pesto'. Potted plants keep well indoors in a sunny window over winter. Plant parsley near asparagus, corn, and tomatoes. Left to seed it will spread far and wide!
Flavor: Parsley offers a mild, but very clean flavor similar to that of parsnips.
Use it in: Fresh in tomato and other salads, as a garnish to soups and light poultry and fish. Take care not to overcook it lest the herb lose its potency and color.
Pairs with: Carrots, parsnips, tomato, onion, garlic, mint, thyme, chives.
Medicinal Uses: Parsley’s medicinal effects rest in its volatile oils and flavonoids: apiole, myristicin, terpinolene, appin and others. These components also account for parsley’s notable flavor. Parsley is known to offer therapeutic uses in the treatment of the urinary tract and is approved by Germany’s Commission E – a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine – for use in the treatment of urinary tract infections as well as kidney and bladder stones. Parsley is used for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, constipation, jaundice, intestinal gas (flatulence), indigestion, colic, diabetes, cough, asthma, fluid retention (edema), osteoarthritis, “tired blood” (anemia), high blood pressure, prostate conditions, and spleen conditions. It is also used to start menstrual flow, as an aphrodisiac, and as a breath freshener.
Notes: Use fresh or dry. High in iron, Vitamins A, B, C, and trace minerals. Parsley was used during World War I on soldiers with kidney complications from dysentery. It was brought to Newfoundland before 1620 by British sea Captain John Mason and grown by Plymouth Colonists in their first gardens.

Bay Laurel

(Laurus nobilis). Lauraceae family (Laurels, Cinnamon). Evergreen.
Parts Used: Leaves, fruit, oil.
Characteristics: Native to the Mediterranean, bay laurel or sweet bay is a shrub/small tree with thick, leathery, deep olive-green, oblong leaves that have an unmistakable aroma. It produces small yellow flowers which develop into purple berries in the fall. Usually does very well in containers.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, moderately rich, well drained soil. Bay trees are slow growing, but after one year in pots they can be transplanted into the garden or a larger container. Dry mature leaves. Growing bay near other plants is not a problem unless the tree gets too large and the roots take nourishment from nearby soil.
Flavor: Sweet bay is rich and deep, faintly spicy.
Use it in: As a flavoring for soups, stews, pilafs and with seafood.
Pairs with: parsley, peppercorns, allspice, fennel, thyme, mustard seed.
Medicinal Uses: Bay has warming, analgesic properties and is used medicinally to relieve topical pain, especially muscle and joint pain (rheumatism), and as a stimulant for the skin. Bay laurel contains parthenolides, the same chemical in Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) that is thought to prevent migraine headaches. Sweet bay is also used to treat intestinal gas, stimulate bile flow, and cause sweating.
Some people apply sweet bay to the scalp for dandruff.
The fruit and fatty oils of sweet bay are used on the skin to treat boils (furuncles) caused by infected hair follicles.
Some veterinarians use sweet bay as an udder ointment.
Notes: Commonly used in teas, herbal baths, or as infused oil. Cultivated in Britain since the 16th Century. Bay is a source of the material used to make ancient crowns and wreaths for heros and poets. Nicholas Culpeper said in 1653, “A tree of the sun, and under the celestial sign Leo, and resisteth witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do to the body of man, and they are not a few.”


(Artemisia dracunculus). Asteraceae family. Perennial.
Parts Used: Leaves
Characteristics: Tarragon is a low-lying plant with long stems and thin oblong leaves. It has a flavor reminiscent of anise and is used often in French cooking.
Planting/harvest: Full to part sun, sandy to loamy soil. Prune regularly to around 2'. Divide every 3-4 years in the spring or fall. Best used fresh in summer. Freeze or dry leaves, store in airtight container. Good companion to most vegetables.
Flavor: Tarragon offers a faintly anise- or licorice-like flavor – sweet and slightly stringent.
Use it in: Classic French sauces, vinaigrettes and vinegars. Add it to roast chicken.
Pairs with: Parsley, chives, chervil, anise, lemon balm, sweet cicely, cream, vinegar.
Medicinal Uses: Tarragon is used to treat digestion problems, poor appetite, water retention, toothache, and to promote sleep. In folk medicine, some parents used it to stave off intestinal parasites in their children. Much like parsley, tarragon has also been used as way to induce menstruation.
The medicinal oil in the leaves is mostly lost in drying. Best to use fresh.
Notes: Writer and gardener John Evelyn said, “Tis highly cordial and friendly to the head, heart and liver.”


(Ocimum basilicum). Lamiacea family (mints). Annual.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers
Characteristics: There are many varieties of basil, and basil can include many color variations, but most can easily identify the low-growing plant by its large, thin, oval and easily bruised leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Plant near tomatoes. Water freely during dry periods in summer. Pinch off flower heads as soon as they appear to make sure the leaves continue growing. Dry leaves or freeze chopped leaves in olive oil inside ice cube trays, then store cubes in an airtight freezer container.
Flavor: Basil is sweet, peppery and offers a slight anise-like aftertaste.
Use it in: Fresh in salads and dips, pesto, in soups or sauteed with greens and, classically, in pasta sauces.
Pairs with: tomato, garlic, onion, cilantro, mint and fennel.
Medicinal Uses: Basil has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. It is traditionally used for stomach spasms, loss of appetite, intestinal gas, kidney conditions, fluid retention, head colds, warts, and worm infections. It is also used to treat snake and insect bites. In Chinese medicine, basil is thought to support kidney function and ease gum ulcers. In classic Indian medicine, basil has been used to treat everything from earaches and itching to malaria, arthritis and anorexia.
Women sometimes use basil before and after childbirth to promote blood circulation, and also to start the flow of breast milk.
Notes: Nicholas Culpeper noted that Basil was "an herb of Mars and under the Scorpion, and therefore called Basilicon". Originally native to India, cultivated there for more than 5000 years. Reached Europe in the 16th century. In Europe, some still place Basil in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, some place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed it would open the gates of Heaven for a person passing on.


(Anethum graveolens). Apiaceae family. Annual.
Parts Used: Seed, leaf, oil.
Characteristics: Dill can grow quite tall with beautiful, fragrant flowering heads and feathery, fragile leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Water freely during growing season. If the soil remains undisturbed throughout the growing season, more dill plants will grow the next season (hearty re-seeder). As soon as the plant has four to five leaves, you can start harvesting. Pinch off the leaves or cut them off with scissors. Dry leaves & seeds. Plant next to cabbages and onions, but keep away from carrots.
Flavor: Dill’s flavor is slightly licorice-like, deeply fragrant and unmistakable.
Use it in: pickles, beet soups, fish stews and chowders, with cream cheese.
Pairs with: fish, cream, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander, parsley.
Medicinal Uses: Dill and parsley share a commonality: apiole, the volatile oil that accounts for so much of their individual flavors. Dill is traditionally used to ease stomach upset and to treat gastrointestinal or digestive disorders such as loss of appetite, intestinal gas (flatulence), liver problems, and gallbladder complaints. In folk medicine, it is also used to treat sleep disorders – particularly insomnia. Some parents give a dill infusion or tea to their young babies as a treatment for colic. It is also used for urinary tract disorders including kidney disease and painful or difficult urination.
Other uses for dill include treatment of fever and colds, cough, bronchitis, hemorrhoids, infections, spasms, nerve pain, genital ulcers, and menstrual cramps. Dill seed is sometimes applied to the mouth and throat for pain and swelling (inflammation).
Notes: There is evidence of its cultivation beside Neolithic settlements. Egyptians and Scythians both used dill in rituals for the dead. Christian monks of the old world believed it would keep the devil at bay. It later became one of the herbs dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus.


(Lavandula spp.). Lamiaceae family. Treated as a perennial, but may not overwinter in less than ideal
growth situations (soil, drainage, etc.) and extreme cold. Most grow as an annual north of Zone 6.
Parts Used: Flowers, buds, leaves
Characteristics: Lavender is a low-lying bushy flower with long stems and many tiny, pale purple buds.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, light, well-drained soil. Lavender does best when planted 'high and dry'. Pinch or cut flower stalks when buds appear. Dry leaves and flower buds. Thyme and lavender help each other grow. Also, lavender helps most vegetables stay healthy and produce more flavor.
Flavor: Lavender is faintly floral and very herbaceous with green overtones.
Use it in: Teas, cookies, scones and sweets.
Pairs with: Honey, oats, mint, rose.
Medicinal Uses: Lavender is approved by Germany’s Commission E for loss of appetite, insomnia and circulatory disorders. Lavender is used for restlessness, nervousness, and depression. It is also used for a variety of digestive complaints including meteorism (abdominal swelling from gas in the intestinal or peritoneal cavity), loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas (flatulence), and upset stomach.
Some people use lavender for painful conditions including toothaches, sprains, nerve pain, sores, and joint pain. It is also used for acne and to promote menstruation.
Lavender is applied to the skin for hair loss (alopecia areata) and pain, and to repel mosquitoes and other insects.
Lavender is often added to bathwater to treat circulation disorders and improve mental well being.
By inhalation, lavender is used as aromatherapy for insomnia, pain, and agitation related to dementia.
Notes: Lavender has been under cultivation for so long that garden lavenders have become difficult to identify.
Traditionally, fragrant bundles of lavender were placed in the hands of women during childbirth to bring courage and strength. Growing it in your garden is said to bring luck.


(Origanum vulgare). Aka 'Wild Marjoram'. Lamiaceae family. Perennial.
Parts Used: Leaf, stem
Characteristics: Oregano is a short, shrubby herb with small, deep-green leaves. The leaves have a kind of soft and almost fuzzy texture.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Oregano loves the sun; ensure your placement has full, strong sun for strong flavor. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Better to water thoroughly and less often. Trim regularly. Harvest leaves as needed, dry excess. The most flavor-filled leaves are found right before the flowers bloom. A good companion for any vegetable.
Flavor: Oregano is bold, deep and strong and the fresh herb is considerably stronger than in its dried form. It is deeply herbaceous and slightly similar to thyme with faint mint-like undertones.
Use it in: To flavor olive oil, in tomato sauces, to season lamb, in chili’s, to season sheep’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses.
Pairs with: Goat cheese, olive oil, lemon, saffron, garlic, tomato, marjoram, thyme.
Medicinal Uses: Oregano is used for respiratory tract disorders such as stuffy noses, coughs, asthma, croup, bronchitis and is an expectorant. It is also used for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as heartburn and bloating. Other uses include treating menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis, urinary tract disorders including urinary tract infections (UTIs), headaches, and heart conditions. Oregano has very potent antimicrobial activities and is a powerful antioxidant.
Notes: The name Origanum derived from the Greek 'oros' (mountain) and 'ganos' (joy). The Greeks used it extensively, both internally and externally. It was a remedy for narcotic poisons, convulsions, and dropsy (edema). Among the Greeks, if Wild Marjoram grew on a grave, it predicted happiness of the departed. Among both Greeks and Romans, it was the custom to crown young couples with it.


(Salvia officinalis). Lamiaceae family. Treated as a perennial, but may not overwinter in less than
ideal growth situations (soil, drainage, etc.) and extreme cold. Annual in humid climates of Zone 9 and farther south.
Parts Used: Leaf
Characteristics: Sage is a low-lying, silvery bush with oblong, soft and fuzzy leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, sandy to loamy soil. Water young plants regularly. Prune heavier, woody stems every spring. Harvest lightly during the first year. After, leave a few stalks so that the plant can rejuvenate. If fully established, one plant can be harvested up to three times in one season. Sage's flavor is best when fresh, but it can be stored frozen or dried. Dry the leaves and store them in an airtight container. Plant near rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but keep away from cucumbers.
Flavor: Sage has a slightly medicinal flavor that is very herbaceous with slight grassy undertones. It is deeply fragrant.
Use it in: Roast poultry and as a rub for pork.
Pairs with: Roast meats. Beets. Cheddar and other sharp cheeses.
Medicinal Uses: Sage is approved by Commission E to improve appetite and to ease inflammation, particularly of the mouth. Sage is used for digestive problems such as gas (flatulence), stomach pain (gastritis), diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn. It is also used for reducing overproduction of perspiration and saliva; and for depression, memory loss, and Alzheimer's disease.
Women may use sage for painful menstrual periods, to correct excessive milk flow during nursing, and to reduce hot flashes during menopause.
Sage is applied directly to the skin for cold sores; gum disease (gingivitis); sore mouth, throat or tongue; and swollen, painful nasal passages.
Notes: There are over 900 Salvia species. American Colonists used Sage as a regular seasoning as frequently as salt and pepper. Like many culinary herbs, familiar use has led to many underestimating the power of Sage. The Arabs, along with everyone from the Chinese to the Gypsies, all believed at one time that it was the key to long life. Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans and was associated with immortality. It was also said to increase mental capacity (note it contains rosmarinic acid, not a coincidence). The Greek Theophrastus classified Sage as a “coronary herb”, able to flush disease from the body, easing undue strain on the heart.
It is still used as a natural gray hair dye (on naturally dark hair).


(Rosmarinus officinalus). Lamiaceae family. Evergreen perrenial.
Parts Used: Leaf
Characteristics: Rosemary is a pine-like shrub with long stems and short, needle-like leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, sandy to loamy soil. Plant near beans, cabbage, carrots, and sage. Water evenly throughout growing season. Prune regularly to prevent 'lankiness'. Prune stems to use fresh or dry whole stems out of direct sunlight and then strip leaves. During extremely cold winters, bring a rosemary plant indoors.
Flavor: Rosemary is pine-like in its scent with almost floral undertones. It is deeply aromatic.
Use it in: Roasts, tomato sauces and herbal vinegars.
Pairs with: Roast meats, potatoes and root vegetables,
Medicinal Uses: Rosemary is used for digestion problems, including heartburn, intestinal gas (flatulence), liver and gallbladder complaints, and loss of appetite. It is also used for gout, cough, headache, and reducing age-related memory loss. Some women use rosemary for increasing menstrual flow. Consult your physician before using rosemary medicinally if you have high blood pressure.
Rosemary is used topically (applied to the skin) for preventing and treating baldness, for wound healing, in bath therapy (balneotherapy), and as an insect repellent. It is also used for treating circulation problems, toothache, eczema, and joint or muscle pain such as myalgia, sciatica, and intercostal neuralgia.
Notes: Rosemary originated in the Mediterranean, now cultivated worldwide. It was an essential part of the Renaissance era apothecary. The French regarded it as a “cure all”.
Rosemary stimulates the central nervous system and circulation, making it beneficial for low blood pressure and sluggishness. The common phrase, “Rosemary for Remembrance” is attributed to rosmarinic acid, which has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities. The antioxidant activity of rosmarinic acid is stronger than that of vitamin E. Rosmarinic acid helps to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.


(Mentha piperita). Lamiaceae family. Perrenial. May thin out and go dormant in winter.
Parts Used: Leaf, stem
Characteristics: Peppermint is a bushy plant characterized by its long square stems, and bright green, slightly fuzzy, opposite leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Minimal care. Mint is highly invasive. If you don't want an entire yard of mint (which I personally would not find unpleasant at all), buy some plants or take some cuttings from a friend and plant them in containers filled with potting mix enriched with compost. Keep potted plants evenly moist. Dry leaves for storage. Plant near cabbages and tomatoes.
Flavor: Peppermint is very aromatic and one of the most loved of the mint family.
Use it in: Sweets and confections, whipped cream, fruit salad, tabbouleh, in lemon aioli, and as a garnishment to roast lamb.
Pairs with: fruit, lamb, lemon, yogurt, marjoram.
Medicinal Uses: Peppermint is a cooling, relaxing herb with properties that help ease inflamed tissues, calm muscle spasms or cramps, and inhibit bacteria and harmful microorganisms. Mostly taken as a tea or in infusions, peppermint is traditionally used to treat colic and digestive upset (particularly indigestion and heartburn), but it’s also been popularly used in the treatment of colds, flu and stuffy noses thanks to its ability to open the sinuses and to ease a sore throat. Peppermint leaves have been approved by Germany’s Commission E in the treatment of liver and gallbladder complaints.
Peppermint is also used for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine, inflammation of the mouth and throat, and allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
Peppermint contains rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary), which may help to reduce inflammation-causing chemicals in people with asthma.
Notes: Pliny (23AD – 79AD) said, “As far as the garden mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes the spirits.” Pliny also noted that the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with Peppermint at their feasts and adorned their tables with its sprays. Their cooks flavored both their sauces and wines with its essence. It was only recognized in America as a distinct species in the late 17th century. Peppermint's generic name, Mentha, is derived from its mythological origin, and was originally applied to the Mint by Theophrastus. 'Menthe' was a nymph, who because of the love Pluto bore her, was metamorphosed by Proserpine (from motives of jealousy) into the plant we now call Mint.

Medicinal Spices: A Handbook of Culinary Herbs, Spices, Spice Mixtures and Their Essential Oils – Medpharm
A Handbook of Herbs: Their Culinary, Medicinal and Aromatic Uses - Richard Marshall, Charles J. Ziga
The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices - Sarah Garland
The Herbal Handbook: A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism - David Hoffmann
Common Herbs for Natural Health - Juliette De Bairacli-Levy
The Old Farmers Almanac
Penn State Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences Online
Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Mills & Bone
Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide
Nicholas Culpeper: Culpeper's Complete Herbal

Same Blog, New Name

Quite a lot has happened since I last posted.

I birthed my third child, finished my degree, closed an old business, co-opened a new one, had three surgeries, and built onto my house. Family drama ensued, which it tends to do, with hearts broken and mended. Homeschooling my littles takes up most of my days along with working on several websites, writing an upcoming local herb class, making products for the store, working on the house/garden/yard, caring for animals, wildcrafting ... IT NEVER ENDS.

When did being insanely busy become the new normal? I finally decided enough is enough. I remember when blogging was a joy for me, and not something I had to forcibly wedge into the end of my day with a crowbar. I love people, and I love sharing what I consider to be a truly blessed life.

Expect to see lots of farm and garden photos, herbal medicine making, health and bodycare how-to's, free recipes, tons of plant love, homeschool adventures and lots more! I'm so happy you stopped by. I sure hope you come back soon :-)


Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I thought I'd share some photos from recent wildharvesting trips we've made around the community. There's nothing I'd rather do! Later, when the harvest slows a bit, I'll post more information on the many wonderful benefits these lovely plants offer, and how to utilize them.

Weed Heaven! :)

Mullein - without a doubt, one of my all time favorite herbs.
Leaves to dry and to tincture!

Mullein flowers, close up. Aren't they beautiful? They're a bit labor intensive to harvest, but it's a true labor of love. It's very calming and good for the soul. I'm going to tincture some, and make a healing infused oil with the rest.

Beautiful Sumac berries, jam packed with Vitamin C and makes a delicious lemonade!

Elderflower, a gorgeous cold and flu remedy, if there ever was one. I wouldn't be without this reliable remedy in my cupboard! The berries are ripening now, as well, and I'll be harvesting some this weekend for yummy elderberry syrup.

Elderflower, close up. Lovely.

Canada Goldenrod, so bright and cheerful! So very underappreciated, and one of my favorite remedies for upper respiratory congestion, among other things ... I look forward to seeing this wild beauty bloom every year in late Summer.

My husband and 4 year old daughter, harvesting Red Clover.

Bountiful Harvest! Some to dry, some to tincture ... another gem for the herbal medicine cupboard.

Stay tuned, and happy harvesting! :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lacto Fermented Sauerkraut

My lovely friend Melissa, and I had the pleasure of spending a weekend last October in beautiful Black Mountain, North Carolina, at the Southeast Women's Herbal Conference. During our stay we were introduced to a delightfully delicious treat known as lacto fermented sauerkraut. I believe it was our favorite food for the weekend!

Now, don't get me wrong ... I've made sauerkraut before. But *this* kraut, well, you'll just have to try it yourself to understand. Besides the immense health benefits it provides, lacto fermented kraut is fresh, crunchy, tangy, and I dare say more addictive (and better for you!) than potato chips. Cold or cooked, YUM. I am seriously sitting here eating a bowl of it right now, as I type this.

I'm not going to try and expound on lacto fermentation when you can read all about it from the master herself, Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (with Mary G. Enig, PhD), a well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods. I couldn't possibly do a better job of explaining the process, so read for yourself and then feel free to enjoy the photos of my very own adventures in lacto fermented sauerkraut making!

The process I used is just the one that works best for me. I find it incredibly simple and satisfying and I hope you give it a try. I started with a wide-mouthed gallon-sized glass jar with lid, a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, large wooden spoon, and a potato masher. I used one large head of cabbage, 2 carrots & 1 medium onion (these are optional), 2 T. sea or kosher salt, and 1/2 cup whey. So here goes ...

I picked a large head of green cabbage from my garden, feeding the sad looking outer leaves to the cows and chickens.

I quartered the head to make it easier to handle, then sliced each quarter into 1/4 -1/2 inch strips. You end up with what looks to be a ton of cabbage. The first time I made this I thought there was no way all that was going to fit into my gallon jar! But wait ...

I then cut the strips into thirds.

I took two large carrots, scraped & halved, then processed them in my snazzy 1970's model food processesor.

Processed carrots.

Coarsely chopped one yellow onion.

Mixed everything together and added 2 tablespoons kosher salt (sea salt is best but I was out),

and 1/2 cup whey. Our milk cow is dry, so I hung 16 oz of plain organic yogurt in cheesecloth over a bowl in my fridge overnight and got a cup of whey from it. (The leftover yogurt cheese is delicious on crackers with red onion.)

Mixed everything well to coat all the veggies with whey & salt.

Then pounded the crap out of it with a potato masher, every 10 minutes or so for about an hour. This allows some of the natural liquids to release from the cabbage, wilting it down a bit and reducing the volume considerably.

Spooned it into my gallon jar. The canning funnel made this much easier.

It looked like I was going to have to add water to cover the vegetables, but a good smash with the potato masher crammed everything down into the jar, covering all with the natural liquids.

Put the ziplock bag into the jar, leaving the zip-top hanging out the top. Then poured water into the bag to within about an inch of the top, making sure the bag completely filled the space above the kraut. The weight of the water helps hold the veg down below the liquid. Lacto fermentation only occurs in an oxygenless environment, so remember .. no air in the veggies!

Sealed the lid, leaving the top of the bag hanging over the sides of the jar.

Let it sit on the counter in my kitchen for three days (needs to be kept around 72 degrees fahrenheit) then, ta da! Lacto fermented sauerkraut! You can eat it now, like me, but it only gets better with time. Kept in a cool dark place (Sally suggests 40 degrees ... I just keep mine in the fridge), it should keep for many months. I just can't seem to keep it for that long.

Come on. You know you want it ;)

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Herbal Teas for Better Health

From a previous article I wrote on herbal teas:

Herbal teas, as well as being pleasurable to drink, can be used as a preventative measure. If drunk regularly, they can help to tone and balance the body. The transition to herbal tea (from your regular caffeinated tea or coffee) can be gradual. Lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, apple mint, and peppermint all make incredibly delicious teas and also add lovely flavor to otherwise less than pleasant herbal preparations. Try to drink 3 cups of herbal tea every day, after meals (to prevent interference with gastric juices and hinder proper digestion). Sweeten your herbal tea with honey or sugar if you like. A slice of lemon or orange is another tasty addition. Here are a few common herbs for tea preparations, with associated indications.

Basil Leaves: Soothing, cleansing, diarrhea, poor digestion.

Calendula: Indigestion, skin troubles.

Catnip Leaves: Headaches, restlessness, menstrual pains, hyperactive children.

Chamomile Flowers*: Headaches, nervousness, & indigestion.

Chickweed*: Coughs, colds, weight problems.

Dandelion Leaves & Root*: Liver & kidney troubles, fluid retention, constipation.

Elder Flower: Chills, fever.

Fenugreek Seeds*: Cleansing, soothing, excess catarrh, increase breast milk supply.

Lavender Flowers*: Headache, nervousness.

Lemon Balm Leaves: Headache, insomnia, melancholy.

Lemon Grass: Skin troubles, high in vitamin A.

Mullein Flowers*: Coughs, inflammation.

Nettle Leaf*: Kidney trouble, fluid retention.

Oatstraw*: Dry, brittle hair & nails, excessive mucus.

Peppermint*: Flatulence, nausea, stomach cramps.

Plantain*: Colds, diarrhea.

Red Clover Flowers: Nervousness, cleanser, whooping cough.

Red Raspberry Leaves*: Profuse menstruation, great for pregnant and/or lactating mothers.

Rosehips*: Coughs, colds.

Rosemary: Circulation, nervousness, depression, headache.

Sage: Fevers, tonic, sore throat.

Thyme: Colds, indigestion.

Valerian*: Tension, headache, insomnia.

Yarrow: Colds, indigestion, fevers.

Basic herbal tea preparation instructions:
1 T. dried herbs
½ pint water
Place herb(s) into a non-reactive metal or enamel pot with a lid. Bring water to a boil; turn off the heat and pour the water over the herb(s). Cover the pot and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain through a non-aluminum strainer. Herbal tea may be enjoyed fresh and warm or chilled. Honey, lemon, or milk can be added, although milk tends to mask the delicate flavors. Refrigerated unused tea to prevent spoilage.

There are no definite rules for combining herbs in a tea mixture. Taste is a major priority! Aromatic herbs such as peppermint, fennel, mint, ginger, lemon balm and lemon verbena will all enhance the flavor of a bland tea such as oatstraw, or a bitter tea such as valerian (valerian has a VERY strong odor which is unpleasant to some).

*Considered safe in moderation for pregnancy and lactation. Always consult your professional herbalist or naturopath before consuming any herbs while pregnant.

This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to prescribe, diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. It should not substitute the advice or recommendations of your physician or health professional, nor should it replace prescription medications without proper supervision. You are encouraged to seek professional medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, naturopath or local professional herbalist, especially if you are pregnant, lactating, have a medical condition, or are taking prescription medication.


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