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".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

St. John's wort

This cheery yellow flower is found all over the world, in uncultivated area, woods, roadsides, meadows, hayfields - in fact, it is so abundant in some areas it is considered a weed. But herbalists and wildflower afficionados have a different view of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum).

The bright terminal blossoms and leaves on these one- to three-foot tall plants are prized especially for one of the plant's active ingredients: hypericin. Blossom time runs from June to September in most climes. Prime harvest time for St. John's, or St J, traditionally fell on June 24 - St. John's Day, of course.

When harvesting for medicinal purposes, it's useful to check for hypricin strength. The simplest method is to pluck a flower or two, rub between your thumb and fingers, and see if your finger tips become stained with the signature blue-violet dye released from the hypericin-filled little black dots that border the flower petals. The darker the stain, the better the hyperion!

Oh yes - it does wash right off. No blackberry picking permanent-purple- fingers type stains.

Or, you can put the flowers in a small jar, cover with vodka, and see if the liquid turns bright red, or dark red, or maroon. Again, the darker the dye, the stronger the hypericin content. I prefer the cheaper finger squish method...

St. John's wort has been in common use for literally centuries - an herbalist's volume noted it in 1597. I can remember my parents using "red oil" while growing up. It was the farmer's "Red Turkey oil". Pharmacists also used to dispense "Hyperion liniment."

So what is it used for?

Among other actions, St. John's wort is antibacterial and anti-inflamatory. Steeping the flowers in olive oil results in the trade-mark red oil, which can be used as-is on bruises, spains, burns, sore muscles, all sorts of skin irritations. Or, with the addition of beeswax, the oil can be made into a salve. I like to combine it with other like-minded oils for a marvelous healing salve. (for salve how-to, see archive for Plantain salve...)

To make the oil, fill a jar with flowers (and top leaves if you want), mash a bit with a fork, then fill the jar with olive oil, stirring as you go to fully immerse all plant material. Add more flowers if needed. Set in a warm place, shake the jar daily for 2-3 weeks. Strain out the plant material, and bottle the oil in a dark container. Kept in a cool place, the oil will be good for a year.

St. John's wort may be dried, and used in teas and tinctures. Drying effectively disables the hypericin (which may not be a bad thing - no purple Chow tongues...) but brings into use other components. Cut the top third of the plant, and hang to dry.

St. John has long been used as a sleep aid and for depression. It is an herbal aid, not the "magic bullet" our society has come to expect for every problem. Herbs tend to work gently with our bodies, over a period of time. St. John in tea or tincture works as a mild nerve tonic. It may help relieve anxiety, insomnia, depression, and general unrest.

NOTE: if you want try St. John's for a depression issue, please consult with your physcian or naturopath. Here is a link to a monograph that explains it much better than I have room:

St. John's wort tea or infusion is reported to help with bedwetting. An ounce of dried flowers steeped in hot water, taken as a 1-2 Tablespoon dose, is said to be effective. It's been awhile since I wet the bed, so I can't really test this one....

To make a tincture, stuff a jar with the flowers, fill it with 100-proof vodka to cover the flowers, and lid. Shake daily for 2 weeks. Strain out the plant material, and store the red tincture in dark dropper bottles. Dosage is noted as 2 droppers 3 times a day.

I am always excited to see the first St. John's wort blossoms in the summer. The field that resulted in the "Mullein Mania!" post also had a good amount of St. John's wort. On another harvesting foray, my friend Laurie joined me for several hours of herby delight. When we had returned to our cars, the farmer and his wife had to come see what we had harvested, and had many questions. I had a tin of salve with me (as always), to show-and-tell; what a wonderful opportunity to provide a bit of herbal education!

St. John's wort is easy to harvest, easy to fill jars with the flowers and oil, and I know I can count on it for wonderful healing experiences.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Green Epiphany

OK, this is anecdotal. I want to share something that happened to me last week that I think I just figured out.

Excuse me for the graphic description here, but POOP happens! I had two days of bowel movements that were deep GREEN. Completely. Like nothing I had ever seen before. Startling, to say the least. Sometimes, there will be bits of green here and there, but this was like it was dyed!
I'm not obssesive over my bowels, but I DO tend to pay more attention, since the bout with colon cancer.

A few days later, I was browsing through some general information, when this caught my eye:

"Dandelion also cleanses the blood and liver, and increases bile production."

The light bulb went on. That green was exactly the color of bile! With some further searching, I read about how during a liver detox the bile ducts become unblocked, releasing many many very small stones, allowing the bile to flow freely from it's blocked up tubes.

So. I THINK, that all my dandelion noshing has inadvertantly achieved something I had long fretted over (liver detox). I have always "felt" that my liver needed more support. But, I was never inclined to go through the somewhat strenuous detox regime I had read about in many places.

And here's another interesting (at least to me) piece of a puzzle. I noticed I immediately felt better. I had more vim and vigor, and no more waking up nauseated as I have been for several months.

I had actually researched gall bladder symptoms during that period of time, because I'm familar with some of them and I seemed to have been manifesting a few. I didn't think I had gall stones, but the story on gall stones was incomplete. It's like they magically appear in the gallbladder, when in reality they start in the liver. So maybe the abdominal pain and nausea I've been experiencing for quite a bit, were caused by the bile situation in the liver?

There! More than you ever wanted to know about my plumbing!

If just EATING DANDELIONS could achieve even a limited measure of freeing the bile flow, giving me relief and better digestive health, I'll KEEP EATING DANDELIONS!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mullein MANIA!

Have you ever been in a place that was so unique, so spiritually uplifting, that you just wanted to bring everyone you knew to experience it with you?

I had a real "Scotty, beam me up" moment this morning, as I stood silently contemplating where to start harvesting 15 acres of mullein. I just wanted to instantly transport all my herby friends to that spot!

I had permission to enter: the owner, an 80-year old codger with a sense of humor, gleefully told me to "just go out there and get all you want, anytime. It's only a penny a flower...." He's still chuckling over that one.

I also had my shoulder totebag with a bottle of water, some light-weight plastic containers, my hat and long-sleeved shirt. I was ready.

But still standing there, in awe. All the farmers around are in awe. No one has seen this phenomonon before and there are many different opinions of how it came to be. Since there wasn't one plant visible last year.

Now, one may not think a field of oats overgrown with a MULITITUDE of mullein is an epiphany-creator. But if you've been struggling to gather mullein in half-cup increments from the few generous plants around your home, you definately are in awe of the vision created in this field.

As I stepped into the field, I silently offered heart-felt gratitude and appeciation for an answer to an unspoken prayer. I knew in my core that I needed more mullein - and was resigned to just getting to my few plants daily and doing the best I could with what I got. As I put that desire out to the universe and let go of it, it was obviously heard. A few days ago I drove by this field, as I do at least once a week, and for the first time actually SAW it for what it was.

In the eye of the beholder. The spirit of these plants is filled with healing, just waiting to be used as intended.

Along with the amazing amount of flowers, there were many first-year plants, so I soon had my tote filled with fuzzy, soft, comforting leaves to be dried. Just handling these leaves makes you soften inside, become more spiritually receptive to the natural world around you, more appreciative and giving.

I shared this particular plant with a tiny bee-like critter, several rambunctious ants and a shy spider. We were in harmony; not disturbing each other, respectful of our individual needs from this generous, beautiful plant.

The harvesting was pure joy. Listening to the Chipping sparrows, already gleaning the tiny seeds of older plants, and to the wind murmuring through the oats, was soothing. In the middle of the expanse of mullein I never felt alone.
I brought home, in less than two hours of easy work, the bag of leaves and over two quarts of flowers. Hey! They're little.The leaves filled two dehydrators. Three trays of flowers are now drying, and as soon as I finish this I'll be putting some of the flowers into tincture.
This morning's adventure was truly a gift.
A generous gift from the mullein, and a caring gift from the Spirit.
I am grateful.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mullein moxie

If Mullein volunteers in your flower beds or herb garden, rejoice! Learn to recognize baby mullein, so you don't weed them out. There are two small youngin's here, in typical mullein-friendly soil. Well-drained, lots of sand and pebbles.

Mullein leaves are softly grey-green, and fuzzy. One old-fashioned name for the plant was "grandmother's blanket". Another name was "flannel leaf". Makes you think warm and comfy, doesn't it? The leaves were stuffed into shoes and boots to provide warmth during the winter. A savvy wildcrafter would do the same even now!

Medicinally, to narrow the broad use of this herb, the mullein leaves offer relief for respiratory related issues, as well as other areas such as skin problems.

Mullein is a bienniel, blooming the second year. Leaves are gathered from first-year plants, and from second-year plants before blooming. In the above photo, a small second-year mullein is shouldering up to a clump of comfrey. Take a close look at the leaves, they are very similar, especially as babies. But there are definate differences - the mullein is soft, the comfrey is harsh feeling. Comfrey also has a defined texture, while mullein is smoothly surfaced with a single center vein.

Mullein leaves can be dried by spreading on screens and kept in a warm area until crispy. A dehydrator may also be used, handy for smaller leaves. The flowers can be dried as well, to be used in teas and in combination with the dried leaves. Both leaf and flower may be used fresh during summer for brewing medicinal teas. The leaf tea is slightly bitter, and a bit pungent. I don't find it off-putting, but I eat 3 dandelion leaves straight up every day, too. So consider the source on that taste recommendation...

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.

One account reported that mullein tea is useful for people who are grieving. Grief is the emotion associated with the lungs and colon in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I found that of interest, something to pursue since I have been having both lung and colon challenges.

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.

All the possible uses of mullein would take several more postings. This should be enough to get you safely started.

NOTE: Medicinal use of mullein or any other herb mentioned on EarthHeart should be done with knowledge and consideration. The information I share will hopefully provide a springboard for your own research. I do not mean to imply medical expertise in any of the information I pass on. A naturopathic doctor is my recommendation for health issues greater than those relatively simple dis-eases discussed here.

(This is known as "covering my rear"!)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

More on Mullein

When I first got acquainted with Mullein years ago, I expected to find baby mullein surrounding the tall parent plant. After all, there were at least a gazillion seeds in those tall spires. Surprise. No babies in sight. I soon found, being the bird watcher that I am, that gold finches admired the beautiful yellow-flowered spikes. They looked upon them as their own personal deli, harvesting those little seeds like vacuum cleaners.

However, where there is one mullein, somewhere in the vacinity there will be a few more. They like well-drained soil, and it doesn't have to be rich. Drought conditions don't bother them, which is a good thing in my area right now.

Have you found your mullein? I think harvesting the flowers is sorta like popping kernels off a corn cob! It does take quite a few plants to round up enough flowers to use. Make a mental map of where you find mullein, so you can return daily for repeated flower harvest - they continue blooming for a long time, as the spire grows ever taller.

My infusion jar was started with about a half cup of flowers, covered with olive oil, and I added to it for several more days to get the amount of oil I wanted. It helps to release the oils in the mullein by slightly mashing the flowers with a fork. Let the infusion steep in a warm place for 3-5 days. You can add more flowers and let it set another 3-5 days for an even stronger infusion. Then strain the oil through several layers of muslin or a very fine strainer. Label the finished jar of oil, and store in a cool dry place. It will keep for several years.

This easily prepared oil can be used to ease the pain of earache. 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.

Mullein flowers aren't the only useful part of the plant. Next we will see what mullein leaves offer for our herbal medicine kit. If you have ever dealt with racking coughs, sore throat, laryingitis, bronchitis and such, you will want to start drying mullein leaves, as well as the flowers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mullein magic

You have probably noticed the tall, single-spired stalks dotted with yellow blossoms, rising from softly colored greyish green leaves. They are easily identified by their height, along roadsides, maybe in your yard borders or garden. This is our common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and it is in prime season right now. Which is why it is our next herb to get to know and harvest.

Mullein is currently taking the lead in my collecting. With cold and flu season creeping up, I want a good supply of this herb. Mullein oil is used to soothe earache pain - if you have punks, you'll want some on hand. Mullein leaves provide important lung-support. We'll get into that part next time.
For this post, I want to encourage you to find some mullein, and harvest enough flowers to fill a glass jar - any size, depending on your supply of mullein. Then fill the jar with olive oil, to cover the flowers. Put a label on that jar: Mullein in olive oil, date. Let them infuse for at least two weeks in a warm place.

(While you're at it, do the same with Calendula flowers, and St. John's wort flowers, if you are sure of your identification - we'll be collecting these flowers this week, also, so don't panic. They will play a part in an up-coming earache oil...)

If you have enough Mullein flowers, also start a jar of tincture. Fill a second jar, with at least 2 cups of flowers, and cover with 2 cups of 100 proof vodka. 80 proof is OK, if that's all you can find. The 100 proof is 50% alcohol, the 80 proof is 40% alcohol. More on the tincture to come.

This oil and tincture are the start of your arsenal against fall and winter ear and lung afflictions.

Check back tomorrow for more on Mullein.

Your homework: locate some Mullein. Don't forget to ask permission if it's on private property...most people consider mullein a weed and will be astonished to hear you actually want it! You will want to return several times to the plant(s), to harvest more flowers since they don't all come on at the same time.

Go forth and FIND MULLEIN!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Take a break...

An herbal tea break, that is. Here are some popular plants for herbal teas:

Angelica Anise Basil Bergamot Borage Calendula Catnip Chamomile Dandelion Fennel Lavender Lemon balm Marjoram Mint Oregano Parsley Raspberry leaf Rose Rosemary Sage Scented geranium Sweet Cicely Thyme Wintergreen

Other plants for herbal teas:

Anise hyssop Ginseng Hibiscus Hops Horehound Lemon grass Lemon verbena Lime (linden) flowers Red clover Sweet woodruff Valerian

Almost every herb and flower has a symboic meaning. Theoretically, you can concoct your herbal blend to make a statement with the herbs. The combinations may be sweet, witty, evocative - definately personal. Here are some traditional qualities of the following herbs:

Angelica - inspiration

Anise - change

Bergamot - virtue

Borage - bluntness

Calendula - hopelessness, grief

Chamomile - wisdom, patience

Clover - think of me

Dandelion -prophecy, foretelling

Lavender - devotion

Lemon balm - sympathy, regeneration

Marjoram - joy

Mint - warm feelings

Parsley - merriment, festivity

Raspberry - remorse

Rose - love, passion, purity

Rosemary - remembrance

Sage - esteem, wisdom, goodness

Scented geranium - happiness
Sweet woodruff - humble spirit

Thyme - daring, courage

Brewing the perfect cup calls for some specific attention. First, regarding the water. If your tap water doesn't taste good, neither will your tea. Or ice cubes, for that matter. Any doubts - use bottled or filtered water. If using your tap water: Use COLD water - and let it run a minute or so, you don't want the water that has been sitting in the pipes - it's lost it's oxygen, and may also have picked up odd flavor from the pipes. Ditto the hot water, it's been sitting in the tank for who knows how long, and you really won't save any time heating.

After your kettle of water is on the stove, preheat your teapot with warm water. When it's time to brew, just dump the water out of the pot, add your herbs - in a teaball, or loose, or teabags (you can make your own), and pour in the very hot (just to a boil, but not boiled - drives out oxygen, which means flat flavor). Cover the pot, to keep in the volatile oils released from the herbs, and let the saturated herbs gently steep or a certain amount of time. The rule of thumb is about 5 minutes. But some herbs, such as lavender, may only need 2-3 minutes. Others, like chamomile, may need 10-15 minutes

NOTE: a tea cozy is a wonderful investment. Keeps that pot warm.

Then remove the herbs, and fill your cup. You can swirl a little hot water in your cup to warm it, and empty it out before pouring your tea. Relax, take in the scented steam from your cup, savor the delicate flavors, and enjoy your herbal respite.

The language of flowers. It's not what you say - it's how you serve it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Commonly known as CHAMOMILE

Chamomile is a common name for a number of daisy-like plants. The word derives in part from the Greek "apple", indicating their applelike scent.

Plants known as "chamomile" include, among others:

Matricaria recutita (syn. M. chamomilla), German or blue chamomile, commonly used in tea.

Anthemis nobilis (syn. Chamaemelum nobile), Roman chamomile, the "lawn" chamomile.

Anthemis cotula, stinking chamomile or dog-fennel, which really DOES stink - used mostly for medicinals.

Matricaria discoidea, wild chamomile or pineapple weed - a sweet mildly pineapple scented and flavored tea herb. It has many of the attributes of German/Roman chamomiles. It is usually the chamomile thought of as "wild chamomile".

Two types of chamomile are commonly planted in herb gardens: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), a hearty annual that grows to about 2 feet tall and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), a low-growing perennial. When growing chamomile for tea, use German Chamomile which produces an abundance of apple scented, daisy-like flowers.

Once you plant chamomile, you have it forever! Which is a blessing - honest. You just need to keep it harvested out of the areas you prefer it weren't in, and establish beds of it in roomy spaces for easy harvesting. The plant can be "weeded" (pulled) out of paths, etc., and the blossoms harvested immediately. Or keep the chamomile "patch" sheared, for bounteous harvests to dry.

Chamomile usually begins to bloom in mid-summer, on into fall. Pinch off the blossoms the day they open. The younger flowers not only have the best flavor, by removing them the plant is encouraged the to bloom more. When you have a good harvest patch, make it part of your morning routine to check for new blooms once a day and harvest them right away. Two cups of fresh blooms will dry down to about ¼ cup, so if you like chamomile tea, be prepared to harvest a LOT!

Immediately after cutting, bring the blossoms indoors and spread them out in a single layer on craft paper or screening. Dry the blossoms indoors, where it is warm and out of direct sunlight.

Be sure the chamomile dry completely - they should crumble easily when rubbed between your fingers. When dry, place them in a lidded glass jar or in a brown paper bag. Don't forget to label!! Chamomile will keep in a dark, cool spot for up to one year.

Pineapple weed, a very short bushy little "christmas tree" about 6" tall is found in waste places such as driveways, along pasture lanes, paths, cracks in sidewalks - in other words, almost everywhere! It is easy to identify when it starts to bloom, by the pencil-eraser sized green flowers. They look like little domed buttons, with no petals.

It can be harvested and dried as for regular chamomile. It makes a delicious light tea, hot or iced. About 2 T. dried flower per 2 cups of hot water.

Pineapple weed ("wild chamomile") can be bruised then rubbed on your skin providing an effective insect repellent. You'll smell good! And you won't be poisoned by DEET...
Pineapple weed, like German chamomile, is a soothing nervine. It helps to calm the nerves, which may assist with insomnia. Chamomile tea has long been promoted as a sleep aid - it may not make you sleepy, but it will certainly calm your nerves.
Here's one to try: Make a footbath of strong chamomile/pineapple weed tea, and soak your feet after a busy day in the garden. Have a tall glass of iced chamomile/pineapple weed tea on hand, and your summer reading book. Invite a couple friends, with their basins, and have a chamo soak while catching up. Pure bliss!
We all need to take a chamo break, our lives are too too busy...and our little herbal friend is ready to bring us a softly scented reprise.

Friday, July 24, 2009

P.S. - red clover treat

Chef J has been patiently waiting for the Red Clover Fritter experiment. So today we picked more red clover flowers...
... whipped up an easy batter, and fried these pretty fritters. We used White clover, too. Tore off the flowerets, mixed them in the batter with some whole Red clover heads, and quickly had some crunchy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside tasty flower fritters.

We also just dipped some of the Red clover flowers in the plain batter, and dropped them in the fry pan. These things take less than a minute to cook. The trick was keeping the oil at the right temp - hot enough to fry quickly and not soak into the fritter, but not so hot that it burned the delicate batter -coated flowers.
We had two big plates of the fritters, so everyone got to participate in the taste test. Only one of the punks said he didn't care for them - he's our picky eater, anyway, so we just let him think the fritters weren't very tasty - while we gobbled them down! Jolene had stopped by just in time to join us - she is a good sport about trying the "weed eating" I keep playing with.

Chef J enjoyed our experiment, he pronounced them, "Delicious!"

Our batter was a simple mix of Bisquick, milk, a pinch of sugar and a dash of nutmeg.
This would work for any flower fritter - dandelion, clover, elderflower - wherever your adventurous taste buds lead you! Just be sure the flower is edible, and not sprayed.
Bon appetite!