Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nettles - a gift of spring

(NOTE: My herbal world has moved to the Northwest. I truly miss the bounty of the Wisconsin farm and fields. But I'm relearning the nooks and crannies of my home state again, living in the bedroom I grew up in, and finding old friends in the woods and meadows of the Oregon Coast. A wild child is a joy where ever it may grow!)

Only one thing gets me more excited about spring than seed catalogs - NETTLES!!

Once the nettles start showing their rambunctious green shoots, I know it is truly spring. Early spring - but spring nevertheless.

The first harvest, Saturday morning, was celebrated in a cow pasture - well fertilized, unsprayed, and most importantly - uninhabited by cows. I brought home a 5 gallon bucket of three to five inch long baby nettles, and started some nettle tea brewing almost before taking off my boots!

You'll be hearing a LOT more about nettles over the next few weeks, so let's just cut to the good stuff. EATING them!

While a load of leaves were drying in the dehydrator, I made a Wild Child Green Smoothie for lunch, with a side of nettle tea.

Into the VitaMix: a nicely spotted ripe banana, a peeled and quartered sweet juicy orange, about 1" of peeled and minced fresh zingy ginger, a big handful of baby spinach, 1 1/2 c. water - and about a cup of nettle leaves. Whiz. Drink with abandon!

The last of the Saturday harvest is now brewing in a quart jar, which will sit overnight. In the morning, I'll strain out the nettles, and enjoy sipping the deep green infusion all day long.

Nettle are the supreme spring tonic. So full of minerals, vitamins and protein (more information next post), it's no wonder they protect themselves with little stabbing stinging hairs! In tea, or raw in salad (yes, you can!) and smoothies, nettles pack a nutritional whollop that would be sinful to ignore.

Especially since they grow abundantly, are free, and farmers love to have you come pick them out of their fields!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Killer garlic

At the first sign of a sneaking-up-on-me cold (sniffles, scratchy throat, sneezing, itchy or runny eyes...), I reach for my mug and the bulb of garlic that is usually in the countertop basket of fruits and veggies I use daily.

Garlic is one of the more popular home cures for colds. Many cultures have a home remedy for the cold using garlic, whether it’s chicken soup with lots of garlic, a drink made with raw crushed garlic, or it may just involve eating cloves raw garlic.

Here's a simple Garlic Tea, that does the job: crush anywhere from one to six fat cloves of garlic, put in the bottom of a mug. Set the timer for 10 minutes, the amount of time it seems auspicious for the "good stuff" to be activated. Then fill the mug with boiling water, add some honey and fresh lemon juice to taste, and sip away. When you get to the bottom, where the garlic resides, get a spoon and scoop those jewels of health up, and EAT THEM!! Yeah, you'll have some garlic breath for a bit, but no worse than with a garlic-laden spaghetti sauce. Brush your teeth and gargle, if it really bothers you.

"The cold-fighting compound in garlic is thought to be allicin, which has demonstrated antibacterial and antifungal properties. Allicin is what gives garlic its distinctive hot flavor. To maximize the amount of allicin, fresh garlic should be chopped or crushed and it should be raw.

In a study involving 146 people, participants received either a garlic supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks between November and February. People who took garlic reduced the risk of catching a cold by more than half. The study also found that garlic reduced the recovery time in people who caught a cold. More research is needed to corroborate these results.

Garlic does have some possible side effects and safety concerns. Bad breath and body odor are perhaps the most common side effects, however, dizziness, sweating, headache, fever, chills and runny nose have also been reported. Large amounts may irritate the mouth or result in indigestion. Garlic supplements should avoided by people with bleeding disorders, two weeks before or after surgery, or by those taking "blood-thinning" medications such as warfarin (Coumadin) or supplements believed to affect blood clotting such as vitamin E, garlic or ginkgo. "

I'm a believer - and I don't mind garlicky breath for a few days if it means not dealing with cold symptoms. Take your choice...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cut the Coughing, Chill the Cold

This is an outright plug for a great business - the Bulk Herb Store. The photos show several of their blends that will help us weather the cold/flu season.
Cough Tea, with Red Clover - the go-to drink for coughs of any sort.

Double-E Immune Boost - to use at the first sign of respiratory trouble.
Dr. Cinnamon - not exactly for cold remedy, but some other important benefits.
The best thing to do, is go to the site, and start reading.
You will more than likely, as I did, make an immediate order, and be educated by all the information available in the sidebar links, while waiting for the arrival of tried-and-true, high quality herbs.
Ya gotta love the web! Where else can we find this quality of information at our fingertips, without a library card!

Monday, September 28, 2009

'Tis the season...for colds

As I sit here with my eyes watering, my throat sore and raw feeling, ears blocked up and achey, my nose running and my chest tight from congestion and coughing, I think I can safely say I HAVE A COLD. Yuk.

I'm grateful I had such a strong prompting this summer to dry various herbs growing around the farm. The herbs you live with are likely the ones you are going to need...just an observation.

So here is what I pulled out of the cupboard: mullein leaf, plaintain leaf, red clover, some raw honey, and a lemon from the fruit basket. Equal portions of the dried herbs are now steeping in hot water in a 2-quart jar (I'm going to need lots of this stuff), and will be ready for sipping in about 30 minutes or so. I'll add some honey and lemon, partly for flavor and partly for their own intrinsic healing properties.

Let's review why these particular herbs are the ones I choose. By combining them, I'm sure to reap the rewards of all their green power. I'll be drinking this tea all day, along with lots of water.

MULLEIN leaf tea is a good drink for people who tend to get colds that settle in their lungs. Herbs such as mullein and garlic are health supporting by helping to prevent or treat the respiratory problems we usually seem to deal with during fall and winter.

Tea prepared with dried mullein flowers can be used as a gargle for sore throat or to soothe a chronic cough. Mullein leaf can be used alone or added to a tea mix along with red clover, plantain, calendula blossoms.To make a mullein tea, use two teaspoons of dried leaf and/or flower per cup of hot almost boiling water. Cover and steep 10-15 minutes. This can be taken three or four times daily.

I'm also going to get out the dropper and bottle of decanted mullein flower oil to ease the pain of the earaches. As long as the eardrum is not perforated, one to three drops of mullein flower oil is remarkable at relieving inflammation and pain in the ear and incidentally eliminating wax accumulation. St. Johnswort, calendula and garlic oils can also be mixed with the mullein oil - these herbs together are very effective for resolving ear infections.

PLAINTAIN tea is more medicinal than casual. Don't let that keep you from trying it. It has a mild "green" flavor. For colds and flu use 1 tbls. dry or fresh whole Plantain (seed, root, and leaves) to 1 cup boiling water, steep 10 min. strain, sweeten. Drink through the day.

RED CLOVER: acts as an expectorant and demulcent, and is helpful in the treatment of bronchitis and spasmodic coughs, particularly whooping cough. Infusion: Place 2 oz fresh clover blossoms, less if dried, in a warmed glass container. Bring 2.5 cups of fresh nonchlorinated water to the boiling point and add it to the herbs. Cover the tea and steep for about 30 minutes, then strain. Drink cold, a few mouthfuls at a time throughout the day, up to one cup per day. The prepared tea may be kept for about two days in the refrigerator.

LEMON juice is made by simply squeezing one or two teaspoons of lemon into water. Lemon juice offers many health benefits to the body because of the different nutrients and acidity. Lemons are inexpensive and you can even purchase lemon concentrate to add to water. With no caffeine, sodium or sugar, people should feel free to drink lemon juice daily.

Either fresh squeezed lemons or store bought lemon juice have the same type of benefits. Lemon juice is very high in citric acid, and in Vitamin C. Vitamin C builds up your body's immunity. This vitamin helps promote natural healing within your body and replacement of many different cells. Drinking lemon juice can give you healthier skin, decrease your chances of infections and even help wounds heal faster.

Lemon has proven to help the body fight off colds. Lemon zest and the juice also acts as an antioxidants. Lemon juice is a natural immune-system booster. Your body needs a strong immune system to fight colds, illnesses and infection. Drinking just one glass of lemon juice daily can help build a strong immune system to keep you healthier.

A side note: My Grandma Pearl swore by Ginger Tea. I love to add ginger to my fall and winter teas. Lemon ginger tea is usually made from ground or fresh-shaved ginger and lemon juice or zest. It can be bought in bags or made at home. Make with 1 tsp. of powdered ginger per cup of boiling water and add lemon juice to taste. It's good for mild ailments, soothes tummys and sore throats, and helps make a cold tolerable as a good warming tea to sip while reading a favorite novel to pass the time as you don't feel like doing ANYTHING else...

People have used HONEY to soothe sore throats and tame cough for years. Usually in conjunction with tea and/or lemon. It can simple be added to hot brewing tea or just plain hot water and lemon juice. Don't forget to let it cool first. When your throat is sore, don't drink anything very hot or cold. Room temperature is always best. Lots of room temperature water is good, too. You still need to keep yourself hydrated.

OK, here's your homework. I haven't tried this one yet, but plan to within the hour. Give it a spin, let me know what you think:


2 cups V8 Juice, 2-3 cloves Garlic crushed (use more if you can), 2 T Lemon Juice, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. Mix and heat in a pan or in the microwave. Sip slowly and re-warm as needed to get the full effects of the fumes. Let it sit in the back of your throat to bathe it. Suck the fumes through your sinuses and also down into your lungs. Its all natural and healthy, so drink as much of it as you want or need until you are SURE the cold/flu is gone. This is past the time when you "feel better."

There you have it. Putting our herbs to work as they are intended. And now I'm going to go pour that tea.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Giant Puffball

The Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)is something to look forward to finding while on an almost-fall walk. These edible mushrooms cook up creamy-centered, soaking up flavorings, rewarding the lucky hiker with a delicious meal.

It likes to grow in fields, meadows and deciduous forests, maturing quickly once it emerges in late summer and early fall. It is common throughout the country.

This particular specimen has been growing rapidly near the cabin, where I've been able to keep an eye on it. I used my flip-flop for scale, and estimate the puffball weighed about 2 pounds. It was clear white, no dark areas on the surface. The "cracking" was caused by it's rapid growth over the past four days.

The large white mushrooms are only edible when young. To distinguish giant puffballs from other species, they must be cut open; edible puffballs will have a solid white interior. Some similar mushrooms can have the white interior but also may have the silhouette of a cap-type mushroom on the interior when cut open. These are usually young cap-type mushrooms and may be poisonous.

If you are lucky enough to spot a small puffball as it emerges, you can also gauge it's safety by it's growth pattern. I never consider picking a puffball until it is well over grapefruit size. The smaller sizes can often be the young cap-type, so waiting is one easy pre-test of specimen. A matter of hours can make the difference between a firm white edible mushroom, or a ball of spores that can be dangerous to breathe. A gentle thump should sound solid, not "hollow", and a gentle palpation should feel solid. The true test of edibility is cutting it open. Firmly solid white inside is the criteria.

The puffball should be used immediately after harvest. The interior is almost "fluffy", reminding me of marshmellow without the stickiness. When it ripens, the interior becomes greenish-yellow with millions of spores. It is then inedible.

This specimen was at a neighboring booth at the Farmer's Market. The vendor said it was growing in the edge of the woods across from his house. He picked four nice puffballs that morning, to bring to the market. At $1 each, they were easily the cheapest mushrooms around. Unless you go out and find your own!

That's not a canteloupe he's holding. It's a Giant Puffball. The surface color was beginning to be mottled, a sign of impending spores inside. Sure enough, by the time I got it home, it was over 2/3 spores already.

But nowhere NEAR as "giant" as this one, brought to the Market the following week by the same vendor (and elderly fellow, looks like he's at least 93!). Everyone had questions about it, the most frequent being "How much do you think it weighs?" (or "What is THAT???) So he put it on the neighboring vendor's scale, where it proved to be a 12-pounder - that's a lot of mushroom! Jayden was amazed...

All members of the true puffball family are considered edible, but be sure to cut the young ones open to make sure there are no gills hidden inside.

Some claim the meat tastes very similar to tofu or melted cheese when cooked. It can be crisp outside, and creamy inside. To prepare, remove any brown portions and tough skin, which usually peels off easily if the mushroom is young. Do not soak in anything. Brush off any debris or dirt at the base, where it grows from a single thin stem.
Puffballs may be sauteed, broiled, or breaded and fried; they do not dehydrate well, but may be cooked and then frozen. They readily absorb flavors, but a light hand is required to keep from overwhelming the delicate woodsy flavor.

I shared the treasure and gift of this incredible edible mushroom with some friends and family. Slices and cubes were sauteed in olive oil and butter, seasoned with a dash of rosemary and other herbs, splashed with some marsala - a pre-fall treat fit for any countrywoman's dinner table!

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Also known as ‘Pot Marigold’, or "Edible Marigold", Calendula (Calendula officinalis) was once used as a vegetable. The leaves were added to soups and stews, and the bright flower petals strewn in salads. While I haven't (yet) tried cooking with it, I have made copious use of it's other well-known feature: as a medicinal. Remember, the "officinalis" means a plant was used by early apothecaries.

I really am kicking myself for not getting some Calendula plants going in the herb beds and flower gardens this spring. I usually have plenty for drying the flower petals and still enjoying the sunny yellows, light and dark oranges of these sturdy plants sparkling among the summer and fall flowers. Hybrids can have double or single flowers, darker centres, or petals tipped with another colour. Calendula is one of the easiest to grow annuals, performing well in sun and dry soil or semi-shaded borders and rainy gardens. The tips should be pinched out to encourage bushiness. It also self-sows, so once you plant it, you can usually count on hardy volunteers the following season!

This year I'll be ordering dried calendula petals from bulk herb suppliers. I use home-made calendula oil as one of the components of my favorite healing salve. Calendula is known as a healing herb, most notably for the healing of wounds. It has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties that prevent infections. It can also support coagulation and scab-formation in sores that resist healing. Calendula salve or cream helps with healing skin conditions such as sunburn, eczema and psoriasis.

Calendula oil is a supurb healer. Easy to make, easy and very safe to use. Not only one of the most effective topical oils, it also makes an excellent base for salves, facial creams and many other natural cosmetics. It is gentle, cooling, and soothing. Calendula oil is the most successful oil for assisting us with dry and damaged skin, skin inflammations, rashes, diaper irritations, and other skin disorders. It makes a wonderful baby's oil, in fact there is a whole line of baby products based on Calendula. Being safe enough for babies, of course it is exceptional for those with sensitive skin.

How to make your own Calendula oil

Things You'll Need:

1/2 cup calendula blossoms
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, sweet almond oil or jojoba oil
3 capsules vitamin E oil (optional, but acts as preservative)
Quart-sized canning jar
Cheese cloth
wooden spoon
Dark colored bottles, sterilized

*Pick the calendula blossoms on a warm dry morning. If the blossoms are still damp, spread them out on a flat surface and let them dry in the sun for a few hours. It's important that the blossoms are dry because moisture on the blossoms can cause mold to grow in the calendula oil.
*Put the calendula blossoms in a quart-size canning jar, and pour the oil over the top. Stir until all of the blossoms are covered with oil.
*Cover the jar with cheesecloth to allow any moisture to evaporate, and place the jar in a sunny window. Leave the jar of calendula oil in the window until it has turned a deep golden color, usually one to two weeks.
*Strain the calendula oil through a folded cheesecloth laid in a strainer, squeezing the blossoms with a wooden spoon.
*Pour the calendula oil into the sterilized bottles and store in a cool, dark place. It will keep for a year.

The oil may be used as-is, or with other oils and beeswax to make salves and ointments. Here is a simple basic calendula salve:

Things You'll Need:

1/4 cup dried calendula flowers
1/2 cup oil (olive oil, almond oil, saffower, or sunflower oil)
1/8 cup grated beeswax, or beeswax pellets
40 drops therapeutic grade (not aroma grade) lavender essential oil
pint canning jar
small saucepan
several wide-mouthed jars, i.e. baby food jars, with lids

*Make an infused oil by putting 1/4 cup calendula flowers into a pint-size canning jar. Add 1/2 cup oil and stir well. Cover the jar with a lid and place the jar in a sunny window. Once the oil turns a deep golden yellow (this generally takes one to two weeks), strain the oil through several layers of cheesecloth to remove the flowers.
*Combine the Calendula oil with the grated beeswax (or pellets) in a small, heavy saucepan. Heat gently until the beeswax is melted.
*Add 40 drops of lavender essential oil to mixture in the saucepan.
*Pour the mixture into several wide-mouth glass jars.
Allow the salve cool in the jars, then lid. Store in a cool, dark place.

This gentle healer will bless you body and soul, as you enjoy it in bouquets, in your borders and gardens, and in your medicine kit. You will find yourself turning to Calendula again and again, for healing and soothing skin upsets and injuries. Make a point of planting some next year, don't miss out like I did this season!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dandelions in Winter

I've been so busy picking, drying, freezing, taking care of the garden and keeping the lawn mowers at bay so I can keep harvesting dandelions and plantain, that I have had little time for posting this week!

This is a head's up: summer is on the down side. Yes, I know, you don't want to hear that. But it's the sad truth, and we need to make like squirrels and get our winter stores in hand.

I have found that my body seems to have a real affinity for dandelions, so I have focused this week on making sure I have them all winter. Here are a couple of methods.

1. FREEZE THEM. I put freshly picked dandy leaves on cookie pans, loosely piled about 2-3 leaves deep, and flash freeze them (that means about an hour in the freezer). Take them out, package in LABELED quart freezer bags, and pop them back into the freezer. I will be using these in green smoothies, in blended soups, and NOT for fresh salads.

2. DRY THEM. I have kept both the dehydrators running continuously, drying dandelion leaves. They will be used in teas, infusions, and whatever else I can think of.

3. DANDELION VINEGAR. This was covered previously, but a quick recap - pack dandelion leaves, well chopped (food processor!) into a quart jar. Cover with apple cider vinegar, using a bamboo skewer or chopstick to poke them into submission as the jar fills. Cover the jar with a piece of waxed paper, then a lid and ring or solid lid. This vinegar potion will be used as a tonic, by taking a couple tablespoons a day in water, or as part of salad dressings, mixed with some flavorful olive or walnut or avocado oil.

My dandelion stash is growing daily. I'm feeling very "squirrely".