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!