Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hello 2018! Nice To See You!

Some of you might have noticed a decrease in posts on social media in 2017.  That's because 2017 was a year of great change and challenges. I couldn't tell you how many times I began to upload a post on HCH page just to delete it and walk away.  I don't know why it was hard for me to share, I guess because it was less about herbs and plants and more about transition and change. In hindsight, I wish I would have posted them, but now I have this opportunity to share my year with you...all in one post. 

I have to be honest, I am not sad to see 2017 behind me. I am grateful for the blessings 2017 bestowed upon us; good health, family and friends, to name a few....and I find myself sincerely grateful to start a new year and chapter of our lives.  Here's a bit of a recap....

Our 2017 started with news of my uncle's passing in late January. He was the eldest out of all the siblings on my dad's side of the family. My dad is the second to the eldest. They grew up listening to Bob Dylan and driving and admiring classic cars. They were bro's before bro's was even a term. Needless to say, this was very hard on the family and was very hard for my dad.  Even though this was very hard on my dad, I just know it was even harder for his two sons, his wife and my grandmother. I love my family. At 88 years of age, my grandmother was going to have to find out of his passing.  This was not an easy time.  You see, she herself had fallen ill and was diagnosed with pneumonia in January.  She had fallen ill just a couple weeks before my uncle's passing.  Although she was making a solid, yet slow, recovery...the family feared the news would take a toll on her progress.  

When she learned of the news of her first born passing, we all held our breath and hoped she would remain strong in her recovery.  Words cannot describe the emotions and deep feelings a mother has when losing a child. She had lost her first child and son to the heavens above. Still recovering from pneumonia, she was unable to travel and attend his funeral and services. About one week later, she passed into the white light.  Her passing was peaceful.  She now joined my uncle and my grandfather in the heavens above, which I know makes her happy. 

My parents and Ryan and I traveled together and attended two funerals, in short order, at the beginning of 2017. Traveling out of town for both services was a bit surreal.  I have to tell you though, when it's time, you do what you need to do and that's what we did.  Hearts heavy yet full of beautiful memories, the four of us traveled and shared a residence inn bringing us closer together. I think we even had the same room both times.  It's all a blur.  Hugs, memories, plants, and pictures brought this dynamic and expansive family of aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends, and neighbors together. Cold truth and warm memories serve as a reminder we are lovingly alive and still have one another, yet acquiesce to the fact we are all immortal.  

Ryan and I decided after nearly 14 years of living in our hill country home, it was time to explore a new path. We decided it was time to place our beloved home on the market. With incredible love and pride we began sprucing up the 5 acre property to sell. At first, we completed certain projects halfway thinking we'd stay and enjoy the benefits of our labor. But, we knew we were slowly saying goodbye to our home in the most loving and honoring way we could. Making our home as beautiful as we could was our last gift to the land and trees we've loved since our late 20's. She deserved it after all. She was our sanctuary. A place we'd create into Hill Country Herbalist, IVITA botanicals, and where we gardened profusely and envisioned the future each and every day.  


In April, we casually met with a realtor to see what they thought about listing our house.  They were very excited about the property.  When we left the meeting, we felt pretty good about deciding to list it and Ryan and I were still in the consideration stage.  That same day, the realtor called and said they had a potential buyer and could they see the property.  It was not even 30 minutes since they had left that they wanted to return with a potential buyer.  Briar (dog), Basil (cat) and I headed to the garden so they could show the house and land.  We sat there quietly among the roses, fig trees, Echinacea, grapes, and herbs....I remember thinking the garden was heaven and anyone would be a fool not to just love these plants.  Plant energy is so beautiful and special.  That same week we had an offer and a contract to review.  This was all going too fast.  I hadn't even come to terms we were actually listing.  The house was not listed and we did not have a contract with a realtor.  It was word of mouth and just that fast.  Well, that offer fell through.  Even though it fell through, that one week was a week of incredible highs and lows and just a real heady whirlwind.  But, it was a wake up call.  We realized we were definitely ready to sell.  We just needed the perfect buyer.

The house went on the market in the beginning of May.  The house was shown several times a day and several times a week.  Each time there was a showing, all the fur kids and I would either camp at my neighbors house or I'd take them to my office at work.  It was an adventure and it was exciting.  The house had a contract in a couple weeks and we were asked to sell it before the end of June.  That gave us just a month and a half to pack our belongings of 14 years - that was not an easy thing to do.  Luckily, we had a little fixer upper we could move into while we explored our next journey.  For 5 weeks straight, all I did was pack.  Pack in the morning, the evening, the night and all weekend long until we were finished.  It was the hardest thing I had to do emotionally.  I was so connected to the land and trees and plants and my home.  But, I did it.  On the last day, I touched each tree that had given so much to me spiritually.  I honored each tree and felt the vibrations and blessed each tree with love.  I love those trees.

July and now
The fixer upper we moved into was already furnished.  All of our belongings are in storage and we are using the vintage dishes and furniture we had in the house.  I remember that last week of June, just before the final closing of the house we sold, we were moving into the fixer upper.  The only furniture we did bring was our bed and bedroom dresser.  The roof was being fixed at the fixer upper due to it leaking each time it rained.  The same day we moved the fur kids and the bed it rained several inches.  I got a call from Ryan and in a very stressful tone he told me it was raining in the house!  The roofers had left without placing the weather proof material on the house.  A huge mistake on their part.  We had every pot, pan, bowl and ice chest in the 1920's shiplap house catching streams of water.  Sometimes, things just get harder and then harder before they get easier.  I like to laugh about it now.

The home is very shaded and in the city. The house is on a quarter of an acre has mostly pecan trees and has one very large loquat tree.  We planted our Meyer lemon tree a year before and that was nice to have a bit of home at the new house.  Other than that, the plants are not edible, but I plan on doing what I can to plant more medicinal plants around the house.  I started planting daily household herbs in the front yard in October...sage, rosemary, sorrel, thyme and oregano.  This was the first time I exhaled a bit of normalcy.  The transition was harder on me than I realized.  I had closed my Etsy shop during the summer, but I couldn't hide long.  Orders were coming in whether the shop was temporarily closed or not.  Thank goodness for those orders.  I am grateful for them.  I made the first batch of Cell Rejuvenator in October and I felt so happy and the Etsy store is back up.  IVITA customers are now coming here to pick up orders and I live really close to the post office, so it's even easier to ship orders.  Things are getting back to normal, one could say.

With 2017 behind us, I enter 2018 with a bright spirit and positive intent.  Herbhusband and I are  inspired and determined to transform this city property into an herbal paradise.  Although the botanical pictures I'll be posting of the future transformation will look quite different than the hill country pictures, they will still be fun and exciting to share. We have an herbal adventure ahead of us :) We have a challenge with the shade, but there are many shade loving creatures we plan to meet and explore.  We are also near the Guadalupe River and the wildlife is breath taking.  Herons, ducks, fish, turtles and so much more.  I am eager to share all of it with you.  We are eventually moving back to the hill country, just taking our time to figure out exactly what we need in our next forever home.  In the meantime, it is nice to have a bit of the city life for just a while.  We enjoy walking downtown and we've even gotten used to the train that runs at all hours of the night.  I think it's a fun adventure.

To your health and happiness! Big hugs and blessings to you and yours....

Happy New Year and to a marvelous and loving 2018!

Warmth and cheers!


Friday, December 26, 2014

Benefits of Organic Coffee: Not Just In Our Cups, But On Our Skin!

Caffeine is not just for our favorite mug anymore....well, unless we're talking about the mug reflected in our mirror.  More and more, we are seeing caffeine as a key ingredient in anti-aging skin care formulations. Used over time, caffeine applied to the skin can help smooth and brighten skin...now who doesn't love that?

Recently, I've been using organic ground coffee in both facial applications and body scrubs and testing out new formulations for IVITA botanicals.  The result is very impressive - I'm wondering what took me so long to formulate skin care products using organic coffee since the benefits on the skin are quite impressive.  Even after a few applications, I can really see and feel the difference on my skin. 

One reason coffee is so good for the skin is that it is very high in antioxidants.  Antioxidants in topical applications help fight free radicals and improve the overall health of our skin cells. Free radicals can diminish skin's vibrant appearance and damage skin cells - so having skin care products with antioxidants is essential.  Coffee also increases circulation in the skin, which can reduce dull appearance and lead to a vibrant fresh glow. Coffee is also anti-inflammatory leading to smoother skin with reduced redness and reduced puffiness.  Yes, please!

When formulating skin care products, I aim to create organic skin care that brightens, sooths, evens texture, and improves overall skin health.  The healthier our skin becomes the better we look and feel.  Over the holidays, I formulated two new skin care scrubs: Organic Coffee & Sugar Facial Scrub and Organic Coffee & Dead Sea Salt Body Scrub.  Each are blended with organic cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla bean as well as special oils such as pumpkin seed oil, coconut oil, almond oil and hazelnut oil to bring out the vibrancy of each ingredient as well as improve the application to the skin.  The result is fresh, vibrant and radiant skin.  Followed by body oil and crème - skin feels soft and pampered all day or all night. 

Want to have fun with organic ground coffee at home?  Try this simple DIY:

 - 1 cup organic ground coffee
 - 1 cup Dead Sea Salts or Organic Sugar
 - 1/2 cup almond oil
 - 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
 - 2 tablespoons organic cinnamon powder
 - 1 tablespoon powdered orange peel

Mix all ingredients together and place in a jar with lid.  Keep by shower and use as often as you like, making sure to avoid introducing water into the scrub container...water can introduce bacteria that can begin to grow.  Bacteria growing in your scrub needs to be avoided.   The smell will fill you with happiness and your skin will glow with appreciation.

Wishing you a splendid (and happily caffeinated) New Year!

For your skin and for the plants,
Blessings to you in 2015!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oil for Mary: Soothing Herbs for Severe Itching Skin

Most of the time, I'm approached for skin care solutions related to aging and/or sensitive skin.  Recently, a close colleague approached me for the first time in 16 years of knowing and working with each other.  She was seeking support.  She confided in me that her mother was undergoing chemotherapy and all was going well besides one thing - her skin was severely irritated and creating chronic itching throughout the day and especially at night.  Her dear mother was losing sleep due to the itching as a side effect of the chemotherapy was seeking support. 

I've known this family for 16 years as they have a tremendous history in the nonprofit and special needs field.  They are like family.  I humbly agreed and that night when I went home I carefully thought out what I hoped would help dear Mary get some well deserved sleep...at least for a night.

I formulated a bath blend and kept it simple: magnesium salt, almond oil, lavender and chamomile.  Magnesium salt to sooth her central nervous system and feed her muscles and skin from the outside in.  I then formulated a body oil for her to place liberally on her skin after she came out of the bath.  An oil that would hydrate and sooth her skin throughout the night was my inspiration.  I quickly reached for oils I've infused and had on hand in my apothecary for skin health: yarrow infused olive oil, calendula oil, violet leaf oil and blended with other beneficial oils to hydrate and benefit the skin. 

I drove in the day after Thanksgiving to meet my colleague.  As I handed her the bath salts and oils I sent her and her mother a special internal prayer of health, happiness and rest. 

Eager to find out how Mary slept the night before, I called my colleague on Saturday morning and she placed her mother on the phone.  On the phone was Mary...telling me she slept so well...the first time since she started chemotherapy.  She was elated and her voice rang with happiness.  I felt incredibly full of joy and relief.  I told her how happy I was she was able to get some much needed rest.  She was delighted and so was her family who had been worrying about her itchy skin.  Her skin had been such a bother to Mary that she had scratched it to the point of breaking the skin on her back and legs. 

Days later I asked how she was doing and the response was the same.  She was able to sleep through the night without itching and her scratches were now starting to heal.  Amazing....love. 

I'm sharing this special story out of gratitude.  I am grateful for the humble support I was able to give one extraordinary lady in her time of need. 

Later, I learned through research that the process of chemotherapy reduces the skin's ability to renew itself, which can worsen dry skin.  I didn't know this when formulating for Mary, but it makes so much sense now. 

The key is maintaining hydration and moisture.  Many over the counter lotions or jellies can feel hydrating, yet may not hydrate or add moisture to our dermal layers.  What may help is a good fragrance free botanical oil blend or crème.    If you or a loved one is experiencing this, look for crèmes, oils, and ointments made with whole organic ingredients which may be a better path to relief.  The key is retaining moisture in the skin using soothing ingredients, such as botanically infused oils.  It's also best to seal in moisture after bath time.  Of course, always consult your physician in your treatment.

Blessings to Mary and all who are surviving cancer.  May your strength and light persevere. 

Green Blessings
For your skin and for the plants,

For the latest information see our Etsy site:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Herbalismo! A Medicinal Plant Festival: Johnson City, Texas

Flat Creek Crossing
We didn't have to travel far to attend Herbalismo! A Medicinal Plant Festival held in Johnson City's Perdenales state park October 24th - 27th.  What fun this herbal conference was!  It was an honor to help sponsor and vend at this event.  Herbhusband and I manned our IVITA Botanicals booth and met so many vibrant and beautiful people from all parts of the US.  I think someone came as far as New Zealand!

Speakers included Rosemary Gladstar, Maria Elena Martinez, Matthew Wood, Paul Bergner, William Morris, Margi Flint, Nicole Telkes, Ginger Webb, and so many more.  It was a group of about 300 yet the feeling was intimate and cozy as we learned from one another over the course of four days. 
Rosemary Gladstar walking to the conference with her mother ~ beautiful ladies!
Another fascinating speaker at the conference was D'Coda.  She's an herbalist and forager who has a documentary on Netflix called The Naturalist and it features how she lived in the Ozarks using only primitive skills to survive.  She spent five years in the Ozarks, never leaving the land only living off the forest and her garden. I find that simply amazing and exciting - what a strong and balanced soul...she's incredible.  

Nicole Telkes, Director of the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine offered a plant walk and discussed native medicinal plants growing in Flat Creek Crossing. Plant walks are so informative; a wonderful way to connect with the bioregion through guidance.


Another notable speaker who presented at Herbalismo! is Marjory Wildcraft, whose mission is "homegrown food on every table", and has developed a very realistic approach to what it takes to be a self sustaining community and family of four on a homestead.  She's invested a lot of research in self sustainability and has been featured as an expert in sustainable living by National Geographic. At the conference she discussed organic gardening, composting, and raising farm animals such as goats, rabbits, chickens and ducks.  Her video "Grow Your Own Groceries" helps everyone understand organic foods and survival skills using resources in your own backyard.   You can learn more about her realistic and well researched approach to self sustaining homesteads at www.growyourowngroceries.org.

It wouldn't be a conference without the compassionate voice of Rosemary Galdstar reminding us all to love one another and love our dear plants.  Her work with United Plant Savers www.unitedplantsavers.org is so important.  As more of us are appreciating plant medicine for healing, it is important to know and be able to identify which wild medicinal herbs are currently at risk of extinction.  Yes, plants can leave us and face extinction just like our wildlife if we are not careful.  She reminds us all to appreciate alternatives to at risk herbs such as American Ginseng, Black Cohosh, Bloodroot and more.  If you haven't already, look into her work and help this very important mission. 

It warmed my heart to be around so many caring nature lovers.  It truly was a joyful experience.  I'm happy to have been a part of a fist time Texas herb conference and honored IVITA Botanicals helped sponsor.  Here is a picture of the booth - we had fun making friends!  Until next time my dear herb and plant loving friends...be botanically beautiful and stay warm..... Green blessings ~ 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hill Country Herbs: Topical uses for Borage, Yarrow, Vitex, Calendula, Rose and Mullein

In honor of the blooming herbs here in the Hill Country garden I dedicate this post to the topical uses of Borage, Yarrow, Vitex, Calendula, Rose, Prickly Pear Cactus, and Mullein.  Below, I'll share just a little about how easy it is to incorporate these easy to grow herbs in your garden and in your skin care regime.  I think each herb could fill a book on its own; however,  this entry will simply highlight a few topical uses.

Borage (Borago officinales)

I started Borage from seed in early spring.  Borage is a good companion plant for tomatoes, so I have some planted along side them as well as in my test "deer resistant" garden.  So far, the deer are leaving it alone so we shall see how they continue to do over the months to come.

Although, you can eat young leaves and flowers...it is the seed oil that is highly regarded for having anti- inflammatory properties due to the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid; making this oil a good source of essential fatty acids.  It is good for inflamed skin and it's very nice when infused in oil and made into crèmes or salves.  The infused oil can be used on its own.  Adding a bit of Vitamin E will allow the infused oil to have a longer shelf life.  Fatty acids are wonderful for aging, dry, or irritated skin. 

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow, also known as soldier's wound wort, is a wonderful first aid herb and is very helpful for the skin. Packing Yarrow on bleeding wounds helps subside the bleeding until advanced first aid and care can be administered. It will help subside the bleeding.  Drying the stems, leaves and flowers is also a good way to preserve Yarrow.  After it is dried, it can be made into a powder in a grain or coffee grinder.  Once powdered, you can store in dark glass jars to keep it from getting damaged by the light.  The Yarrow powder can be a first aid powder and applied to bleeding cuts or wounds.
Another way of using Yarrow is infusion. When leaves and flowers are infused in water, it draws out the healing properties of the herb.  The healing infusion helps serve as a wound wash; cleaning the skin with its astringent and anti microbial properties. This herb is a must have in the garden. It's good to have a first aid herb growing in case you ever need it.
Yarrow's salicylic fatty acids are good for adding antibacterial properties to skin care blends (such as cremes and serums) making this a nice addition to blends made for those with acne prone skin. It also has antioxidant properties. That alone is key for good skin care. This herb is very good for oily or inflamed skin and the antibacterial properties helps keep infection at bay. 

Vitex, or Chaste Tree (Vitex angus-castus)

I read a lot about how Vitex, when used internally, balances female hormones; however, I also read here and there that when used topically, it can help with insect bites as well as repel insects from biting you.  There's not a lot out there as far as how to use the herb topically, so I was happy to find "Wild Herbs of Crete" (http://quickbooker.org/kunden/wildherbsofcrete_com/pages/portraits-of-our-essential-oils-from-wild-herbs-of-crete/vitex-agnus-castus.php).
Here, it explains how Vitex seeds can be made into an essential oil and used to in massage oils as well as used to ward off insect bites.  Essential oils come from the fruit/seed extracts and is not overly commercially produced; however, it can be found in select stores and it can be made with a home still. Wild Herbs of Crete explains the benefits of the oil and also discusses benefits in terms of topical massage. Since its known in the US as an herb to take internally, in an effort to balance female hormones, it makes sense that using the oil topically would have nice outcomes.  Wild Herbs of Crete indicates massage oil containing Vitex is useful for skin inflamed by hormones, as well as beneficial as a massage oil for breast tissue. I liked reading that it, "reconnects a woman with her inherent harmony within and balances sexual desire between a man and a woman..." When it comes to Vitex, it is all about balance and hormonal harmony.  How nice! We have it growing in our landscape; it is deer resistant and very beautiful. 
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula is gentle enough for a baby, yet strong enough for all sorts of skin uses.  On any given day, I have Calendula petals and flowers solar infusing into oil in the kitchen's most sunny window.  I like to solar infuse Calendula into oil for about 4 weeks until the oil is a nice warm yellow/orange color - filled with the Calendula's vitality.  Once ready, I strain out the flowers and bottle the infused oil where it waits to be used into massage oil, salves, or crèmes. 

Calendula promotes cellular turnover, making it a very nice facial crème.  It also helps sooth and soften skin.  For a quick way to use Calendula, you can heat some water along with a handful of flowers and make an infusion.  Once cooled and strained, you can use the infusion as a facial wash, an eye wash, or a first aid rinse.  You can also enjoy the steam coming off the infusion for a nice DIY facial steam.  A facial steam of this infusion is so wonderful for the face since Calendula boasts anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. 
Calendula is a very nice herb for sensitive or acne prone skin, as well.  Calendula helps heal tissue and reduce inflammation. 
Calendula has so many uses, both internally and topically that it demands an entire book in its honor.  In fact, one of my favorite Herbalists and Aromatherapists, Mindy Green, has written a book dedicated to Calendula, simply titled: "Calendula".  As she states on the cover of her book, "This soothing first-aid remedy is unsurpassed for skin problems from diaper rash to varicose veins."  Now, you can see why it is one of my favorites, as well....since from birth and beyond, this is a beautiful herb to enjoy throughout your lifetime. 
Rose (Rosa)
Who doesn't adore rose petals freshly picked from the garden?  So delicate, fragrant, soft.....and when kissed by the breeze, takes on the look of butterfly wings dancing in your hand.

There are so many topical benefits using both the petals and the seed oil. Fresh rose petals can be infused in red wine vinegar (just one of many menstruums, i.e., oil, alcohol, vinegar) to benefit the skin, such as for relieving sunburn or toning the skin. I also like to dry rose petals and finely grind them into a powder to add into honey for a yummy deliciously humectant face mask. This delicious face mask (literally) can be applied to the skin one a month to draw moisture, nourish, protect and heal the skin.  Literally: Skin Food!

When infused in red wine vinegar, for example, the outcome is a wonderfully vibrant extract that can be diluted with aloe vera juice and rose water to make a cooling facial mist.  Imagine this cooling mist on your face after a hot summer day or a hot flash....ahhh..... So nice!
Rosehip seed oil is yet another topical treat for your face.  Rosehip seed oil is made from the wild roses naturally growing throughout Chili. It has long been a beauty secret for the people of Chili and it's popularity is growing in other countries. Rosehip Seed Oil is very high in essential fatty acids, especially linoleic acid.

Rosehip seed oil has been used by women for stretch marks and it has also been used to assist with sun damaged skin and scars. 

I think this oil is best for dry mature skin, since Rosehip seed oil is very high in essential fatty acids.  It seems best for individuals who no longer struggle with bouts of acne or breakouts.

I love using this oil on my hands and under my eyes. It is silky and smooth. It absorbs very quickly and does not leave an oily feeling on the skin. Skin is left soft and satin smooth. You can tell you are helping it be the best it can be after using this very special oil.

I especially enjoy this oil after using one of hand blended sugar scrubs....skin is so ready for a special oil like this after a light exfoliation. Happy skin is good :)


Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Another one of my favorite skin herbs is Mullein. Mullein is native to Europe, but can be found growing wild in much of our United States.  I transplanted this Mullein (pictured) from the back field to our nearby kitchen garden.  Mullein transplants very well.  A bi-annual, it will soften your heart with time as you and Mullein spend then next 2-3 years enjoying each other's company as changes evolve.

Mullein can grow very tall, this Mullein has reached over 6 feet with bloom stalks.  It is a very magical plant and just to be around it brings you comfort.  Soft leaves and large size suggests how comforting and beneficial it can be to any garden. 

Topically, the leaves and flowers are used.  Leaves can be harvested, dried and infused into oil to make healing salves and crèmes.  Mullein is very emollient....I use it in my Happy Camper crème https://www.etsy.com/listing/85012906/happy-camper-lotion-for-irritated-skin?ref=shop_home_active
that I have dedicated to all the gardeners, hard workers and outdoorsy folk I know.  Mullein's anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it a household staple for applying after being bit, scratched and "earth touched" while enjoying the great outdoors. 
Another herb growing in the garden, that I will quickly mention, is Monarda citriodora; purple horsemint.  I love to infuse the flowers and leaves in apple cider vinegar and dilute with aloe vera juice and rose hydrosol for a beautiful nourishing astringent toner. It is helpful for acne prone skin and I find it nourishes and tones skin ~ great for summer use when some of us over produce oils in our skin. 

Aloe vera is also growing out in the garden.  Did you know you could substitute the inner fillet of a Prickly Pear Cactus pad for Aloe in a pinch? Well, you can....if ever hurt or burned...turn to the native Prickly Pear Cactus for comfort (Opuntia).  Years ago, I posted a fun way to use our native friend...here's a quick link to that post: http://www.hillcountryherbalist.com/2010/09/great-way-to-use-prickly-pears-and-be.html
As you may have guessed, there are entirely too many herbs growing native and naturalized all around us that have topical benefits.  I think I could write a book on just this one subject matter. However, I'm so happy to share just a few herbs that I use daily for topical applications.  I hope you are enjoying your beautiful day and as always I wish you wonderful green luck!
For your skin and for the plants,
Hill Country Herbalist

Reference: Wild Herbs of Crete

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mid Spring in the Texas Hill Country

Happy Spring to all! It's been an amazing spring here in the Texas Hill Country with about three freezes since mid March! Our poor tomatoes, jalapenos and basil are stunted -left not knowing what to do.  As they sprouted new leaves...a frost came along and zapped them! Not just once, but three times...the last one just this past week! Poor herblings. 

However,  all is not lost (or stunted), here are some herbs and plants that were not fazed one bit by the ongoing frosts ~Onion, strawberries, yarrow, bee balm, self heal, mullein, apple mint, oregano, thyme, echinacea, parsley, dill, chives, carrots, calendula, poppies, hollyhock, roses, burdock, vervain, wormwood, sage, betony, mexican hat, artichoke, swiss chard, plantain, lettuce, and other hearty herbs such as rosemary. 
 It's very enjoyable after a long day at work to come home and find bright red ripe strawberries to pick! Half go to us and the other half must go to our freckled nose son...Mr. Briar! It's a treat he patiently waits for each spring day. 

 This year, the poppies jumped over a bed.  So...here I am looking in one bed...just to find them making a home in one bed over.  Who knew they were so transient? All the same, I adore them.  They are so glorious in their pink - red hues.  Amazing. 

 The sage is blooming - so beautiful.  I planted sage as a low hedge this past year.  Now, the low hedge is all filled in and blooming.  The native deer do no not prefer or like sage...so this makes it the best hedge ever! Deer resistant and purple blooms around the home.  Win win. 
 Poppies are so intense as they build their petals.  Starting off as a tight clam shaped buds...they expand as they form their petals within....later busting at the seams full of petal delight! I simply love poppies. 

 Black watchman hollyhock is beginning to set its stalk of buds.  Later this spring and early summer...this stalk will be filled with black hollyhock blooms.  Stunning. 
 Our Texas native poppy.  Flouncy petals yet prickly stalks and leaves.  Like many of us Texans ;) lol!

 Our native thistle....
 Poppy going to seed...
 Carrots from last winter going into flower....so beautiful
 Chives full of blossoms....honey bees simply love them...buzzing all about!
 It's going to rain, I think...love Spring rains!
 Poppy making petals....working so hard...in a day or two it will explode with double coral poppy petals!
California Poppy has been thriving all winter and still blooming today

 Mullein is beginning to erect itself...I'm going to miss the giant rosette of velvety soft leaves.  Mullein is erecting and soon there will be a stalk that will offer gorgeous little yellow blossoms.
Our little greenhouse at dusk...time to head in and settle in for bed.  Until next time, HCH.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hydrosols in Facial Mists, Toners and Cremes for Enhancing & Beautifying Skin

There are many floral hydrosols that I enjoy incorporating into my skin care blends.  Some of my favorites are rose, orange blossom, lavender, calendula, lemon balm, and chamomile.  I love orange blossom hydrosol.  It makes my Calendula Orange Blossom: The Daily Lotion smell so sweet. You can make just about any hydrosol you desire....all one needs is a steam distiller.

Here's a beautiful copper steam distiller made by Al-Ambiq.  These pictures were taken last fall at Rootstalk Festival, an herb conference celebrating plants, people and planet benefiting Cascadia Wildlands.  The good folks at Mountain Rose really did a fine job putting on this conference.  It was my favorite thus far.  It was held in Oregon and I can't say enough about it.  Sadly, this was the first and last Rootstalk Festival they will put on.

This is Ann Harman's copper distiller (from Morning Myst Botanicals).  She presented a live demonstration on how to assemble the distiller and make essential oil and hydrosol using lemon thyme plant matter.

Hydrosols, or essential waters, are a co-product of essential oil making.  Hydrosols and essential oils are created when you steam distill plant matter.  In this case, after assembly, Ann added water and plant matter into the distiller.  As the distiller produces heat, the plants release their essential oils and are carried through the distiller's coils.  
It vaporizes the water and the essential oils from the plants. The condensing coil, shown here in this picture, is a coil submerged in cool water.  When the steam travels through the condensing coil, the steam and essential oil condenses from a vapor into a liquid. The liquid (hydrosol and oil) drips into the glass receiving element shown below.

Here, you can see the results of the steam distillation process: the darker golden line above the water is the essential oil and since oil and water don't mix...the oil will float above the water.  The water portion below the essential oil is the beautiful hydrosol.  Hydrosols also possess the  fragrance of the plant. Although the fragrance is not as strong as the essential oil, it is still a delicate representation of the essence of the plant.

Hydrosols are not only deliciously fragrant, they carry many of the benefits of the plant. They carry beneficial plant acids and are anti-inflammatory. Hydrosols help heal, tone, restore pH balance and hydrate skin.  Hydrosols are also wonderful because of their antioxidant properties. Plant acids can have wonderful impacts on the skin. Rose hydrosol, for example, has a long history for being known to help hydrate skin and reduce fine lines on the face. 

Due to its mild and therapeutic benefits, I use calendula hydrosol topically to help heal irritations on my cat, Basil.  Like many cats, Basil does not like to tolerate much in terms of therapeutic intervention, but he enjoys the calendula hydrosol when applied to his skin.  He is very allergic to fleas and if he gets bitten he will quickly get inflamed lips and sores. After applying the hydrosol with a cotton ball on his skin, his inflammation is reduced and his sores heal faster. 

I encourage you to keep researching and reading about the many benefits of hydrosols in skin care. For facial mists, I love to keep it simple: rose and lavender hydrosol.  Rose hydrosol is a wrinkle fighting beauty secret and lavender is so loving to the skin making it wonderful for even those with the most delicate and sensitive skin.

When purchasing hydrosol for skin care, be sure to purchase from a distiller whose main objective is to make hydrosol rather than essential oil.  If it's a hydrosol that is a byproduct of essential oil, then the flowers and plant matter used may not be as fresh and full of the wonderful watery elements you want when enjoying hydrosol.  However, if the distiller's main objective is making hydrosol, then you will ultimately have the best representation of hydrosol.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Figs: For Your Health and For Dessert!

Two years ago, herbhusband and I planted two fig trees, botanically known as Ficus carica.  We planted Brown Turkey, or Texas Everbearing fig, for their ability to both handle the hot dry summers and cold freezing winters we experience in central Texas. 

Last year, we had an early freeze in October and lost the figs that hadn't finished maturing on the trees.  That was so very sad.  They had grown quite a bit their first year - up to 6 feet.  However, their roots were new to their home and the trees froze to the ground. 

This year, in early spring, the figs sprouted new growth and grew to be over 8 feet tall! We have been excited to harvest figs throughout the summer and fall.

Earlier this month, the leaves dropped but the figs remained and continued to ripen.  Heavenly! I started to worry about a deep freeze we were scheduled to get and decided to harvest all the figs - ripe or not.  I must have brought in a hundred figs.  I placed ripe figs on the kitchen counter and the unripe figs in a brown paper bag to encourage ripening.  So, just after two years of growth, the figs have nicely established root systems making them much more resistant to climate changes.  Hurray!

Now, the new task at hand was discovering a new and delicious way to savor all of these figs!

 I knew I wanted to saute them with red wine and really was craving a figgy dessert sooo....here's what I did. 

Rinsed and sliced ripe figs and sauteed in a pan with red wine, maple syrup, a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden, and a hint of freshly grated nutmeg.  I gently sauteed the figs just until they were warm and lightly cooked.  (It's good to gently cook and not over cook figs to keep their shape and texture on point).

After about 2-3 minutes, I removed the figs and then I was left with this gorgeous jewel toned sauce!

Leaving the rosemary sprigs, I added just a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and created a red wine reduction over low heat.  The maple syrup, red wine, rosemary, and balsamic mingled together and became one fantastically delicious herb infused sauce!

A perfectionist would strain the sauce before serving to remove the tiny seeds left behind from the figs....but I was so excited and eager to eat this deliciousness....that thought just didn't cross my mind :)

I gathered a couple scoops of good quality vanilla bean ice cream and then placed the sauteed figs over the ice cream.  Then, I spooned and drizzled the red wine reduction over the figs and ice cream.  Oh heavenly days, this was so good! The reduction gently melted the ice cream and the taste of maple syrup paired with hints of rosemary in the reduction is simple bliss!

Figs can be eaten fresh from the tree (as Briar and I enjoyed this summer and fall) and can be made into meals, jellies and jams or dried.  Figs are a great source of fiber and have superb nutritional value.  They contain antioxidants, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K. 
Eating a few figs a day helps stimulate the digestive system and helps us stay healthy. 
I hope next time you see figs in the grocery store or in a farmers market you don't pass them up - they are so good! I also encourage you to grow your own! They are easy and fun to have in the garden.
Until next time, HCH.