Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Today in the Herbal Kitchen: Making Herbal Bath Salts

Today, my cousin is having a birthday party so I decided to bring herbal bath salt as a gift for her and her sister. The bath salt I purchased at the health food store this morning is Genuine Zechstein magnesium chloride flakes. The package states that for millions of years this salt has been protected at 1600-2000 meters deep in the interior of the earth, as part of the ancient Zechstein seabed in Europe. It is said to be easily assimilated by our skin, so I selected this to be the foundation of my herbal bath salt soak product. Not the most economical way to make an herbal bath salt, but I thought - ahhh, what the heck, go for it!

I added my herbal favorites: chamomile flowers, lavender flowers from my garden, and a combination of essential oils that make you smile and exhale with relief when you take a whiff. I used recycled glass jars to package them in. I try and buy food products in glass jars as much as possible. Then, instead of discarding, I sterilize them and store herbs and other herbal products in them.

Many rely on bath salts since it is associated with effecting our muscle and nervous system. Magnesium sulfate in the salt can be readily absorbed by our skin, reducing inflammation. You may note you prune less when bathing in bath salts. Bath salts can also help improve smoothing rough areas on our skin as well as decrease inflammation of irritated skin.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Little BPA Along with Your Change?

A Little BPA Along with Your Change?

Check out this link to the Environmental Working Group's website. If you are like me and try and decrease exposure to BPA - read this quick article.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Minneapolis Adventure

I received "Outstanding Alumni of the Year" award from my graduate school this past weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon check in, I heard the front desk person say "You are staying in the executive corner suite" and that's when I thought, who me?? Really??

The room was gorgeous - views and views of downtown Minneapolis. Friday night, I attended the banquet where I said a few words and met the wonderful board and faculty of the university.

Saturday was a free day with university socials going on in the late evening. Herbhusband and I toured the town. We took the light rail to the Mall of America and stayed there for about an hour and a half when we both said let's go! We want to explore the nature scene!

We hopped on a shuttle and found ourselves in lovely park where our herb adventure took us to a more fulfilling place than any mall could offer. . As we began our walk, we could see the downtown sky line through the trees and over the water. The water was so beautiful and the weather was crisp and breezy. On our herb walk we met up with clover growing along the pathways - for a Texan, seeing clover growing so lushly was heaven! We stayed and took many pictures and appreciated a stand of bee balm, yarrow, dandelion and plantain.

Bee Balm: I just love Bee Balm (Monarda) also known as Horsemint by some. In a previous posting I showed you how to make Bee Balm honey and after using this honey each time my throat feels a little funny I thank my herbal teacher, Nicole Telkes, for turning me on to such an delicious and easy way to ward off sore throats. A poultice can also be used for headaches. You would simply infuse bee balm in hot water and soak a cloth in the infusion and apply directly to the skin. Bee Balm has been used by Native Americans to fight mouth and throat infections - the active agent here being thymol, which has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties.

Clover: This particular clover is Trifolium repens, part of the pea family (Fabaceae). My favorite clover is red clover; however this lower growing clover offers white creamy flowers and is often used as a pasture feed. It can be a wonderful addition to an herb garden, as seen here, since it introduces nitrogen to the soil and can keep out unwanted seedlings/weeds. You want soil rich in nitrogen to keep your soil healthy and able to defend itself against disease. Clover is high in protein and to eat this particular type of clover, you must boil it for at least 5 minutes since it's hard to digest. You could also sauté the leaves and/or roots with other veggies to add more protein in your diet.

Yarrow: I just love the feathery fern like leaves on the Yarrow. Yarrow is quite interesting in that internally, its actions are hypotensive, astringent, diuretic, and antiseptic. It has been used to assist with high blood pressure and has a reputation for being effective in bringing down fevers. It is said that drinking the tea can help decrease menstruation as well as helping expel afterbirth. It has also been used to shrink hemorrhoids. Externally, it is often used to stop bleeding wounds (astringent).

Dandelion: Dandelion has such a bad rap! I can't get over how this healing plant has been labeled the enemy for so many years. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) gets it's name from the tooth like edges on its leaves. In Spanish it can be broken down to Dent de Leon or Tooth of the Lion. All parts of the Dandelion are edible. The fresher newer leaves can be eaten directly in salads or sautéed with a little olive oil and salt and pepper for a wonderful change to your culinary routine. The flowers can be tossed into salads, too. But the roots....ahhh the roots is where the action's at! The roots can be made into tincture and the tincture (a bitter) can be taken just before meals to stimulate bile production and help aid digestion. The roots also have caffeine and can be roasted and substituted for coffee for people who need to back away from coffee for whatever reason. The roots are also said to help with liver detoxification and kidney health. It's a tonic so it's actions are best when used in small doses over long periods of time. There is so much that can be said about our herbal friend dandelion, that I will set aside time and focus a posting featuring dandelion in its full glory.

Plantain: Plantain (Plantago major) can be gathered throughout the summer. The leaves are often used for their healing properties, especially with burns and bites. Plantain can be gently chewed and applied directly to the burn or bite when exploring the outdoors and when there isn't anything else to assit you with your dilemma. Taken internally, it is said to assit with coughing and acts as an expectorant and a soother of inflamed membranes. When I burned my fingers, I quickly turned to Plantain and added it to my healing remedy. (By the way, my fingers did not bliser at all - whew!). On a plant walk with Herbalist Christopher Hobbs, he noted Plantain's soothing actions by stating how it has been used to assist with gut irritations and diahrea. Overall, though - I think most people prize plantain for it's soothing and healing benefits on irritated and inflamed skin.


Cottonwood is a member of the Willow family. The Willow family is known for it's analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties. Like aspirin, Cottonwood has been used to reduce fevers, headaches, arthritis and other inflammations. Cottonwood bark can be made into salves, creams and tinctures and it's said to be very helpful in relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Cottonwoods love to grown near water so if you see one, you know water is very near. Cottonwood is very much like aspirin - in the way it helps the body with pain. All parts of the plant can be used; however, not all parts of the plant can be made into healing remedies the same way. The bark may be pretty difficult to digest and may not settle well when taken internally whereas a tea made with the leaves has been taken internally by some with good results.

After gazing at these magnificent herbs, we crossed the bridge into what is know as "the island" of lush garden homes within the Mississippi River. The bridge was gorgeous; a perfect structure to stop and look at all the wildlife around the area. As we strolled along the bridge we entered the island where the homes were literally picture perfect! I loved seeing homes flanked by echinacea, cosmos, grape vines, leatris, yarrow, phlox, thyme and mints! It simply was heavenly - I only wish I could have gardens like this without fences in Texas - the deer just won't allow.

As we walked around the island - I noted how charming the sidewalks were as small yellow flowers bloomed along the edges as if celebrating each step we took.
We continued to walk then noted how the downtown sky line looked closer to us than if we turned around and went back the way we came - so we made the executive decision to keep walking and find a bridge to take us right into downtown - no shuttle needed here! We were happy to keep on walking!
We found the bridge and saw people gathering alongside the river from one end of the bridge to the other to view the night time fireworks show. We saw many people riding their bicycles, getting toted around by horse and carriage and we even saw a party group peddling on all sides of what seemed to be a retired trolley - they Whoo Whoo'd up and down the bridge and downtown chugging beers and having a great time. The atmosphere was ripe for a great evening! Here you can see folks starting to claim their spots for the show.

After a nice glass of wine and watching the sun go down, we sat outside of a corner gourmet restaurant downtown - then we walked back to the bridge for the fireworks show. Amazing! Proud to be in Minnesota this past weekend and honored to be the recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award, and so pleased to be able to fit in an herbal adventure to boot!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Burn Burn Burn! Ouch! Now What?

So, I was making dinner and boiling some potatoes. I knew I had overfilled the pot with too much water so I went to the sink to pour off some of the water. I felt heat and thought to myself, "I didn't have the pot on the stove long enough to be feeling this kind of heat...why is it so hot?" That's when the heat became so unbearable I put the pot down just to see the paper towel I was holding the side handle with was on fire! I was stunned! My poor fingers were feeling the fire flames coming right off the paper towel! OUCH! I stomped out the fire and then knew I had to think fast to give my fingers the best possible outcome. I grabbed the Monarda (bee balm) honey and covered my fingers with it. Honey is thought to speed up healing and is a natural antimicrobial and bee balm is a great antimicrobial, as well. I could feel the pain intensifying with each passing second....but I knew I was doing the right thing putting honey on the burns. I was so scared I may have really hurt myself I found it hard to think. I remembered Aloe (relieves pain and decreases inflammation) and Plantain (soothes inflammation and has great healing properties)...so I put Aloe gel in the cup and the only Plantain I had was in tincture form so I put several dropperfuls in the gel along with Calendula tincture and vitamin E.
Ahhh! the cool gel felt wonderful but it still throbbed. I read I could place either a potato or onion on the burn for about 15 minutes to draw out the heat and pain. I thought that was odd, but I was willing to try it. Sure enough, after 10 minutes the pain subsided. Don't get me wrong, it still hurt - just not as bad.

After the onion, I continued soaking my fingers in the aloe gel mix for another 10 minutes then another round of honey. I kept on with dinner (it was delicious) and then bandaged up my three fingers in paper towels (all I had) that I had soaked with colodial silver, a wonderful natural antibiotic. I am just hoping the blistering won't be so bad. I'll know as the night goes on, but for now....I'm happy to be an herbalist. I don't know how this would have turned out if I didn't have my home remedies to lean on.

...I still can't believe I caught a paper towel on fire...I need a vacation!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cooking Healthy Dinners at Home

Cooking simple and nutritious dinners at home can be fun, especially when you incorporate herbs! This simple dish is full of nutritive goodness and it's so easy to make.

When selecting salmon, it's best to purchase "wild caught" salmon, rather than farm raised. Many times, farm raised salmon has been artificially colored to give it the pink/reddish color many of us desire in salmon. However, wild caught salmon hasn't been artificially manipulated. Salmon is a great way to incorporate EFA's (essential fatty acids). The benefits of salmon help reduce inflammation and help maintain proper immune and circulatory systems when eaten twice a week. Salmon is also a good source of omega 3 oils as well as protein, niacin, riboflavin, B6, B12 & selenium. It does have cholesterol so you may want to look into this some more if this is an area of concern for you.

I love to bake my salmon over a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil. I chop organic lemons (peel and all) and place in the oil to cook along with the salmon. I always use parsley when baking salmon, along with salt, pepper and thyme. The lemons become soft and scrumptious and when you get ready to serve the salmon - simply spoon the baked lemons drenched in olive oil over the top of the salmon for a wonderful taste explosion. Lemons are also a great source of Vitamin C and can aid digestion as well as boost our immune system. When using the whole lemon, I only use organic lemons. I'm just not comfortable eating the peel of a non organic lemon.

Parsley contains a substance that may prevent the multiplication of tumor cells. It is said to help relieve gas, stimulate the digestive system, freshen breath and promotes bladder, kidney, liver, lung, and stomach function. It also contains high amounts of vitamin C.

I love to have fun in the kitchen, whether it's making lotions or making a simple dinner. Serving sweet potatoes sauteed with onion and fresh spring greens adds interest and flavor...and we all know the benefits of drinking red wine with our evening meals. I know it's what keeps me going!

...and for dessert...who needs refined sugar and refined flours? Not me! Get some more vitamins with your dessert by serving simple slices of juicy pears with fresh raspberries in a small pool of unrefined organic honey. This nectar of the earth hits the spot at the end of any meal.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stachys: Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea)

This past spring, I purchased Betony (Stacyhys)from the semi-annual plant sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. I purchased two plants to add to my herbaceous plant collection in hopes of handcrafting these plants into salves and creams. I have them growing in pots while they get adjusted to my micro-climate. I plan on transferring them permanently into the main garden next Spring. As you can see, this is the time of year they produce beautiful scarlet flowers. The scarlet blooms are very attractive to hummingbirds, so it's a wonderful addition to a garden. It seems most people use Betony as a landscape plant; however, this plant offers much more than just visual stimulation.

One can harvest the aerial parts of Betony and dry them to make tea infusions or tinctures. It is said, Betony can calm the central nervous system as well as strengthen it. People find it helpful to assist with nervousness, anxiety, and tension - as well as diarrhea and irritations of the mucous membranes. (I'm thinking this would be a good tea for a person who gets diarrhea when overly stressed and anxious).

I haven't harvested the leaves of this plant just yet....right now I'm simply admiring it's leaves and blooms. The leaves feel very soft and rather thick. There are soft hairs on the leaves. The leaves are a vibrant green and the thickness in the leaves is notable.

I took this picture to demonstrate how just about anyone who loves herbs can find joy growing them in pots. These are first year pots and as the plants mature they will be re-potted in larger pots or find permanent homes in the garden.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Today in the Herbal Kitchen: Making Sugar Scrub, Lip Balm and Lotion

I was a busy bee today. First, I explored lip balm territory. Since this was my first time, I was cautious with ingredients and made a very small batch. I used bee balm oil as my base and added an essential oil that made this balm tasty and sweet! Next time, I'll embellish it a bit more but must say I'm proud of this balm for my first time around.

Energized after the lip balm adventure, I made a new lotion. This is my seventh lotion creation so I'm dubbing this one "#7" until I find a suitable name for it. This lotion features chamomile, bee balm and calendula along with wondrous oils and vitamins for a recipe so tantalizing your skin will radiate with delight!

Here's a little bit about one of the featured ingredients: Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
The flowers are so sweet smelling; it is as if honey dipped apples perfumed the air. Chamomile is often enjoyed in tea. People turn to this herb when they need help with digestive distress or when they need help calming the central nervous system so they can rest and sleep. The actions of chamomile are anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antiseptic. The tea can be swished in the mouth to soothe inflammation and has been used to assist with gingivitis. It can be gargled as well. Externally, people have used this to speed wound healing and reduce inflammation and swelling. The Spaniards refer to it as "Manzanillia" which stands for little apple. Chamomile was once heavily relied upon to scent shampoos and was sought after to add a golden tint to hair.

I wrapped up the day by creating another sugar scrub. This one features the lavender flowers I harvested last month along with citrus peels I dehydrated and powdered. The smell is fresh and clean and leaves skin soft and moisturized. This scrub is used in place of facial wash. It cleans, exfoliates and moisturizes your skin all in one step.

Now, I'm off to wrap up the weekend and get ready for the week ahead. Remember to take time and smell the herbs! ttfn ~

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stay Well and Get Well Herbal Soup

Ever feel the slight tingle in your throat, like you just might be getting sick...followed up by a slight coldness in the nose and maybe a sneeze or two? Then you learn others around you are sick?! First you might think...I'm a gonner - I'm toast - I've been pushing myself too hard and now I'm gonna get sick (sigh). Then you think...wait, I can beat this - I'm stronger that them!

Guess what? You are! You can be stronger than them and you might just steer clear of the funky junky if you eat and think like an herbalist! Here's how: garlic, thyme, cilantro/coriander, bay leaf, rosemary, marjoram, shiitake mushrooms - swirling all of their goodness in a hot bowl of chicken (or vegetables for the vegans) soup.

Yesterday, I felt terrible - I thought I was catching the office gunk. When I came home I pulled out the tried and true reliable ingredients that have safe guarded me from getting sick for some time now. It's kept me healthy and happy for so long - it's like second nature to make this pot of soup anytime I feel illness rising up.

First, I get my big stock pot and fill with purified well water. I dice a large onion and add organic chicken (when I was a vegetarian I'd rely on cabbage and carrots). Next, I add a handful of thyme from the garden along with two bay leaves, marjoram, shiitake mushrooms, rosemary (tied in a bundle with the longest sprig for easy removal), a sliced jalapeno, and potatoes. I allow to simmer along with salt/pepper and other favorite spices. When it's about finished I add the chopped cilantro. When served in a bowl, I'll add fresh minced garlic right on top. Garlic is best when not overcooked...just allow the fresh minced garlic to steep in the hot soup and it will unleash its incredible powers! I use fresh garlic, never the minced garlic from a jar you buy at the store.

Here's why it works:

Garlic Allium sativum: actions are antiseptic and anti-viral which helps boost and defend the body against unwanted invaders. Garlic helps protect our bodies and strengthen it, especially when used consistently. Garlic is an immune stimulant and can be effective against infections almost anywhere in the body. It would be good to eat three cloves each day - perhaps one minced clove in each bowl of soup! Yum!

Thyme Thymus vulgaris: actions are anti-microbial, expectorant, and anti-spasmodic. This is such a great herb for infections that you can infuse this herb and use it as a gargle to fend off sore throats!

Marjoram Origanum vulare: also has thymol and acts as an antiseptic, expectorant and diaphoretic. The infusion in the soup helps aid a cold or flu.

Shiitake mushroom Lentinula edodes is really not an herb, but finds a home in the fungus family. The benefits of this mushroom can be traced back to the glucan polysaccharide compound, lentinan. Lentinan seems to work by boosting the body's immune system helping us fight infections and disease. Try it to build resistance against colds, virus and infections.

Coriander Coriandrum sativum (also know in Texas as Cilantro). Coriander seeds harness the most immune boosting benefits. This herb has been used to remove toxic elements from our bodies and is said to fight against bacterial infections.

Jalapeno and lemon wedges have loads of vitamin C, too. So now you can see how this soup just smacks of tastiness and healthfulness! Moms always told us of the benefits of chicken soup when we're sick - next time, toss out the noodles and bring on the herbs!! Stay healthy my friends :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lemon Balm: Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm, or Melissa is in the mint (Lamiaceae) family. The mint family holds a treasure of plants, well beyond the typical mint sprig used to adorn your dessert or tea (although those mints hold great benefits, as well). Once you delve into the world of mints, you soon realize how different our culinary and preventative health world would be without them.

Melissa is one of my favorites. I love this plant; although, I must confess when I first purchased it years ago, I hardly knew how to use it! I just loved the fragrance and beauty of the plant. Now that I know more about Melissa, I get excited at the numerous ways I could use this plant in the kitchen as well as in my health and beauty treatments.

When I'm outside gardening and get bitten by a mosquito, I instantly reach for the leaves of Melissa. I gently bite them with my front teeth to release the oils and quickly rub the leaves on the bite. I've never had anything else work so fast at taking away the irritation and itch of a mosquito bite as I have had with this plant.

The leaves have essential oils containing citral, citronellal, geraniol, and linalol. Smelling the leaves has been an herbal remedy for anxiety. It has anti-depressive qualities. This plant is an anti-spasmodic; good for digestive issues such as flatulance and spasms.

In researching a cooking recipe, I stumbled upon this recipe for a cleansing milk for the face. This cleansing milk is specific for troubled skin and acne.

Cleansing Milk for Acne:
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt (yogurt has alpha hydroxy acids, which is good for the face)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon dried Melissa (lemon balm calms inflammation)
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers (lavender flowers also calm inflammation)
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves (thyme helps fight bacteria and is an antimicrobial)

Mix all together in a jar and steep in the refrigerator overnight. Next day, strain our the herb and pour the "milk" into a new container. This keeps in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. To use, dampen your face with warm water and then apply the milk much as you would a toner. Use a couple times then rinse.

More about the fabulous ways we can use Melissa in another post. All for now though... must finish unpacking my bags from a trip we took to the coast. We visited great friends and made new ones. I did feel guilty about not updating my blog, though! Glad to be back in the hill country herb world researching new ways to use our plant friends.

References: The Herb Companion & David Hoffman's "The New Holistic Herbal".