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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,

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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.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December Gardening in the Texas Hill Country: Beta Carotene & Vitamin C Power heading into Winter

This has been an amazingly warm fall and winter.  Typically we receive our first frost (just enough to kill everything back) by late October.  This year, we are heading into the second week of December without one damaging freeze yet! Incredible.  Well, the clock is ticking.....we are gearing up for our first deep freeze this week.  That means I've been very busy in the garden trying to capture and harvest every last drop of the late summer and fall garden. I've carried armfuls of fruits and veggies inside the house and there's so many foods I'm excited to share with you today!

First, I want to share one of my most favorites: The Romeo Carrot.  This carrot grows to be three inches or shorter and is just the same in diameter.   They are popping up from the earth on their own letting me know they are ready to be enjoyed!

I planted them in late summer/early fall and they mature pretty quickly. I must say, these are the sweetest and tastiest carrots I've ever had.  I peeled them and sliced them and gently sauteed them with a little butter, salt, pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg.  Oh they are so tasty! I was eating them with my fingers hardly able to wait to plate them up!

I also chopped fresh parsley from the garden and added them to the sauté at the end.  So sweet and savory.  I will certainly be enjoying these again and again. 

As I gobbled them down, I started wondering if there was a relationship between the primarily orange and reddish foods coming out of the garden as we head into winter.  Exploring my curiosity, I noticed a lot of the food coming out of the garden is packed full of beta carotene and vitamin C. 

Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and full of age fighting properties.  It also boosts the immune system and helps improve night vision.  With the days growing shorter, we sure have a lot more night in our lives and eating fresh organic carrots is not a bad thing if you ask me.  I need all the help I can get when walking in the dark checking on plants and the greenhouse not to mention driving in the dark at only 6pm!

Peeled organic carrots from the garden: I love all the different shapes and sizes!
Before it freezes this week, I went ahead and harvested every single bell pepper, fig, pumpkin, tomato and herb I knew would be damaged by the cold temperatures. Did you know all bell peppers are a good source of Vitamin C? Yellow and red are higher, but even the green bell pepper is a great source of Vitamin C!  So all these wonderful fresh foods sitting on my kitchen counter are great sources of beta carotene and vitamin C! What a blessing from mother earth. 

Heading into winter, it's important to feed and nourish our bodies properly with fresh sources of vitamins and minerals.  Our immune systems will certainly get a work out in the months ahead.  Last night, I made a fresh salad with sliced tomatoes and bell peppers with a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice and a dash of sea salt.  A tart and savory treat.  The combined juices could have been a specialty juice blend all its own!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) thriving in the December garden
Parsley has been used as an after dinner herb, both pallet cleansing and bad breath reducer.  Parsley is also a great source of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and niacin. 

Parsley is also a good blood cleansing herb and can help rid the body of toxins. It's so easy to eat and versatile. I like to make cuttings from the fresh sprigs and keep in a slender vase in the kitchen. It keeps very well and stays fresh in water....and best thing is you can use the sprigs throughout the weeks in your nightly cooking.  Chop finely and dress up any weeknight meal for a gourmet treat :)

Tonight, after I came home from a long day at work - I saw the abundance of tomatoes, peppers, parsley, sage and Swiss chard on my kitchen counter.  I also had grass fed ground beef waiting to be introduced into a meal tonight, too.  I had no idea what I was going to do when it just was so obvious I had no other choice but to make it.  Stuffed bell peppers with sauteed tomato, beef, garlic, parsley and sage. 
I started by browning the grass fed beef along with one seeded habanero pepper (I have so many I always try and use them here and there).  I took the seeds out to keep the flavor but not the heat.  Fresh habanero is so sweet and adds complexity to the dish.  It's a wonderful stimulating herb for your nose, taste buds, and circulatory system. 
Next, I drained any excess fat and added about two cups chopped tomato.  After the tomatoes started to reduce, I added one minced garlic clove, two sage leaves, 1-2 leaves chopped Swiss chard leaves,  and freshly chopped parsley (about two tablespoons).  While cooking I halved and seeded 4 bell peppers.  Once everything was simmering and reducing in the skillet, I gently added the halved peppers facing up just to gently steam them.  After a couple minutes of steaming the peppers, I removed them and plated them.  I then stuffed them with the ground beef sauté.

I love this since it was made all in one skillet.  No need to get overly fancy for a Monday night - but it really hit the spot....home cooked vitamin packed goodness but not all the fuss. 

Next time, I want to share with you how I made a wonderful figgy treat! It's a sticky, delicious, gourmet, must-have dessert you can make right at home :)

Until nextime, HCH