Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Today, I am removing the dried lavender flowers from the stems of lavender I harvested a couple weeks ago. I've had bundles of lavender hanging in my window sill drying naturally and now I'm excited about making good use of these dried flowers.
In the picture, you can see the dried lavender, the stems after the flowers have been gathered, and the collection of flowers in a container. The flowers I'm gathering can be used in cooking, teas, or in beauty products. One can sprinkle the flowers in sugar or salt scrubs for an added punch of color and fragrance. These flowers would lend themselves nicely to a steaming bath or facial.
Mixed with dried marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, basil, fennel seeds and oregano - these flowers add just the right touch to Herbes de Provence. Herbes de Provence can be rubbed all over a chicken just before baking for a sensational stir of the senses. The smell while cooking infuses the air and the flavor makes chicken irresistible. For a vegetarian twist, one of my friends uses this mixture in her potatoes au gratin recipe. I was amazed on how delicious the Herbes de Provence mix she was using smelled. It was as if you could eat it straight - it smelled so good! Since then, I'm determined to make my own Herbes de Provence so that is how I'll be using these flowers.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Today's Garden and Herbal Adventures: Agarita and Bee Balm flowers

Well, today I cut myself on a vintage platter that must have broken when I last put it away. I jabbed and sliced my lower palm while pulling it out- ouch!! It bled and bled...then I remembered the Agarita tincture! I ran to my herbal pantry and grabbed the tincture and dispensed drops all over the cut. Sure enough - just like magic - the cut stopped bleeding and it sealed itself.

Agarita or Berberis trifoliolata is native to central Texas and is often confused for a native holly. The leaves are very similar to holly and the spring yellow flowers turn into bright red berries that resemble holly. The berries are often made into wine or jam. The aerial woody parts of the plant can be made into tincture by grinding or rough chopping the stems, etc.and macerating them with vodka. This tincture has wonderful astringent properties - lending this plant to be a fantastic remedy for bleeding wounds. When you cut into the woody parts of the plant, the interior is very yellow. Berberine is the yellow part of the plant. Berberine is an alkaloid and has a history of being used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and is prized for it's anti-inflammatory properties. Berberine may be useful for fungal, candida, yeast, parasites, and viral infections. It's been studied for it's antimicrobial activity.

I also made a beautiful bouquet of bee balm flowers - proving herbs are wonderful additions to our homes and our health. These flowers are so alive with joy - I just had to admire them before I prepared them into herbal concoctions. I'll prepare them tomorrow into tincture and herbal honey....but today - just visual beauty.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Edible Flowers Growing in the Garden

There are a lot of edible flowers growing in the gardens - some of which you may not even know are perfectly edible. Rose petals, are delicious, fresh, and a source of vitamin C. Think about using rose petals in a simple syrup. You can do this by boiling some water, removing from the heat, then add a handful of petals and sugar to taste - let steep like you would a tea. About an hour later you can strain the petals and whala! You've got rose petal simple syrup for your next cocktail party.
Phlox is a gorgeous bubbly flower blooming this time of year. It is a perennial and common in many cottage garden themes. They are very resistant to insects and pests, making them a winner in my book. Phlox flowers can be used to decorate cakes and cupcakes or used in fruit salads or to adorn a plate for a whimsical presentation. Basil loves eating phlox flowers. He gets excited to eat them just as he would with a cat snack out of a bag. He's a curious cat and tends to have good taste when it comes to edible flowers.
Calendula is a very happy yellow to orange flower. It is also known as pot marigold (not to be confused with the common marigold we often find in nurseries). Calendula has also been dubbed "the poor man's saffron" since it can lend similar coloring and flavoring as saffron in specialty dishes. The heads can be quite resinous and bitter so it's best to delicately remove the petals and really only use the petals in cooking. Calendula petals can be used in rice dishes, as well as soups, salad dressings, and desserts.

Bee balm flowers are also quite edible. As you've already seen, the flowers and leaves can be infused in honey to make a delightful medicinal honey traditionally used anytime there is a sign of sore throat or cold. The petals and flowers can be used to decorate desserts, salads or salad dressing. Since the smell and taste seem close to oregano, it can be used/substituted for oregano for a unique and whimsical twist.
Also growing in the garden is African Basil. The brilliant purple spike flowers radiate in the summer garden. Honey bees and butterflies simply love these flowers. They are irresistible to them! I love them, too! I often use the flowers to add zeal to tomato salad or pizzas. The flowers can be used in so many ways, such as garnishing fish with a splash of lemon. You can also make a tantalizing basil simple syrup for a complex martini! I hope this fun blog helps you see flowers in a different way and that you are encouraged to not only stop and smell the flowers, but to munch on them, too!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Juliette tomato

Take a look at all these tomatoes I harvested today! I knew my neighbors were out of town so I took full advantage of the dress I was wearing and used it to help me collect 60 tomatoes off the prolific plant! I'm thrilled - perfect for making a cheesy tomato pie, tomato sauce, or just about anything else you can think of.

Cooking the tomato brings out the most nutritional benefits...so I made cheesy tomato pies - one with parsley and one with basil (pictured). Delicious and satisfying since it came straight from the garden.

Lycopene, the cancer inhibiting element in tomatoes, is why the tomato is red. Cooking the tomato breaks down the cell walls releasing the good things we need in the tomato. Eating them with some fat, such as olive oil or avocados for example, can further help absorb lycopene.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rose Petal Honey

Roses are not just for smelling and admiring from afar. We can eat them, too! Eating roses from the grocery store is not advised since they have too many additives to keep them preserved; however, home grown, pesticide free, organic heirloom roses are very much edible. I once had a rose arrangement proudly displayed on the coffee table (freshly cut from the garden) just to find Basil eating them! That's him caught in the act last fall - he was such a stinker! A smart stinker, though! That cat was getting his share of vitamin C.

Rose petals can be tossed on salads for a unique twist, sprinkled over ice creams or confections, mixed with butter then molded, chilled and served for a delightful brunch, or mixed into jelly and jam recipes.

Here, I've made a rose petal honey. This special honey can be added to teas, pancakes, or anything else you can think of to offer a boost of vitamin C. Petals are best when the flowers first open. This honey will be a wonderful addition to the bee balm honey I made combating a cold/flu. These honeys are immune boosters and delicious to boot!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Red Katydid Outbreak in Central Texas

There must be millions of these outside. They are feasting on all the live oak trees and have eaten all of my roses and some patio potted plants. I've killed about a hundred today, but to read this (below) on the internet - frightens me. I see about 5 of them on every 6-8 leaves on the oak trees outside.

"The Central Texas leaf-katydid is an arboreal or tree-dwelling species found mostly in oaks," Troxclair said. "Large populations of them can decimate oak tree canopies and swarm over property, though they're mostly considered a nuisance or annoyance."

Troxclair said he witnessed the previous explosion of Central Texas leaf-katydids in 2007 and remembered a large bottomland area near Pearsall where the rapacious insects had completely defoliated hundreds of live oaks. During that year, outbreaks were reported in Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Frio, Hays, Kendall, and Medina counties.

What I'm noting is they are eating the oak leaves, rose leaves, pomegranate leaves, bird of paradise leaves, some grape leaves - but they are leaving the herbs alone. The calendula, thyme, basil, chocolate mint, peppermint, bee balm, oregano, rosemary, lavender, self heal, skullcap are all untouched. They haven't moved to the raised garden bed area - I'm keeping a very close eye to ensure they keep out the the tomato and veggie garden!

Reference: http://www.hpj.com/archives/2010/jun10/jun14/0607TexasInsectNumbersIncre.cfm
High Plains Midwest Ag Journal

Revenge on the Leaf Eaters

This blog is for all of you who think I'm a wuss when it comes to the creepy crawlies. Well, not on this front. For about two months I've seen my rose garden get chewed into twigs. I've come to realize it is a gigantic grasshopper faced red bodied, noisy leaf eater! Their faces are so gross and their mouths are most of it. Well, as I've been listening to their non stop wing rubbing - day and night I thought I had to do something..but how? I don't use pesticides and there are way more of them than me. They are the size of my index finger and I must have counted about 125 of them just on the back wall yesterday.

I know they stare at me when I come and go and I know they don't fear me. They thought wrong this morning. As I looked out the window, I saw 14 of them chomping on the few leaves the climbing roses had left. They are relentless, I said!! That's it!!

With a broom in one hand and a tall stick in another - I started stabbing them, crushing them, stomping them...one by one. I didn't know who was louder as they went down - them or me as I squealed and screamed as I killed them. As more and more leaf eaters were notched on my belt I grew more confident in my victory...and I especially relished squashing two mating leaf eaters at the same time! Ahhh!! Relief!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Today in the Garden: June Harvest

Harvested out of the garden today: heirloom tomatoes, basil, and lavender. Shown here are Dr. W. Yellow and Juliette. I must come out of the garden looking like a greedy squirrel each day - I go in there expecting just to pick a few and before you know it...I'm overflowing with tomatoes that are rolling out of my arms and hands! I probably could have lifted my skirt today to make an impromptu basket, but it was kind of short and wasn't sure if the neighbors were home or not..so I took two trips. Dr. W. Yellow are the large pumpkin shaped tomatoes. I can't wait to slice them with sea salt sprinkled on them. YUM!

Also coming out of the June garden: basil and lavender. I plan on drying the lavender by hanging them then collecting the blossoms. The dried blossoms can be mixed with dried rosemary, thyme, savory and other culinary herbs and makes a nice herbal rub for chicken. Delicious!

Blanco Lavender Festival

I volunteered at Heron's Nest Herb Farm today, which is one of the local Blanco farms involved in supporting the annual Lavender Festival. At Heron's, they grow lavender and echinacea as well as make many many products made from lavender (salves, air fresheners, lotions, surface cleaner, etc.). It was great to see a variety of vendors there selling crafts and goods. There was also a well attended women's race. Many runners stopped off at the beverage booth I was manning to quench their thirst with lavender lemonade or hibiscus tea. Also offered were cookies with optional lavender icing. They were a hit. It was so good to see so many people connect with the lavender plants and take time to support this community.

I was so happy to see Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine founder/owner Nicole Telkes there with fellow herbalist Cecile. They were educating passer-bye's on the school's various workshops and products.

I took a picture of honey bees enjoying the lavender and a child running freely through the lavender field.

When I came home, I was so energized I infused new batches of oils and now have them soaking in the sun on the kitchen window sill. I infused Calendula flowers, Chamomile flowers, Cleavers, and Alkanet Root. I plan on making a large batch of lip balm next month.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Today in the Garden

Today was a sunny, hot and steamy day. I came home from work and went straight to the garden with a glass of Dry Comal Creek Cabernet (I know it's a faux pas but I had a little ice in it to cool off). The Meyer lemon is doing great and is filled with about 30+lemon babies. These lemons are juicy and smooth with no seeds. We look forward to these lemons each year. I saute them in olive oil and salt - peel and all. The saute is great over fish. The barrel it's in was purchased at Becker Vineyard in Fredericksburg, TX and is a recycled Cabernet wine barrel....perfect for the Meyer lemon tree.

The grape/tomato/potato/onion garden bed is doing well too. This is the first year for these grapes so the fruit was very vulnerable and most of it was lost to insects in early spring; however, the leaves are being infused in olive oil for lotion making. Grape leaves are very high in minerals and vitamins. The onions have a long way to go, but the tomato plants (next picture) are doing quiet well.

Also growing in the garden is catnip (Nepeta cataria). Catnip is in the mint family and the flowers and leaves can be collected from June - September. Catnip has been used as a cold/flu remedy. It's actions are anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, sedative and astringent. As an anti-spasmodic it has been used to ease upset stomachs, flatulence and colic. It has been used to ease diarrhea in children and helps ease and relax the nerves. As a tea, one to two teaspoons of the dried herb can be infused in a cup of boiling water according to David Hoffman's, "The New Holistic Herbal".

Reference: David Hoffman's, "The New Holistic Herbal" 1983 and 1990.

Harvesting Raspberries and Tomatoes After the Rains

In the garden, I'm growing 8 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes that are ready by the handful each day is the Juliette variety. They are prolific and delicious with fresh sea salt tossed with minced garlic, olive oil, and lemon. For an added twist, I added basil flowers to the mix and the result was amazing - just enough pow to brighten the tomatoes.

Years ago, we planted a raspberry plant. It would produce three or four berries. Now this plant has spread (almost wildly) all over the floor of one of the gardens. Since handfuls of berries comes as a result, the rambling raspberry is very much tolerated.

Also ready to harvest: lavender flowers! They are gorgeous. Speaking of lavender flowers, the annual lavender festival at Heron's Nest Herb Farm in Blanco, Tx is this coming weekend. Many herbalists and other plant lovers will be there. Included in the event line up is a 10k women's run, culinary artists, music, herb products for your body and home, and lots and lots of lavender and echinacea to buy. For more information you can view their website at: www.heronsnestherbfarm.com

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Braunfels Flooding

At 2:30am I woke up hearing one boom after another followed by lightning and horizontal rains. There was no sleeping through the booming thunder last night. At 6:30am we received a call from a neighbor up the way who was away on a trip. He had received a call from the security alarm company indicating a signal had read an indoor fire at his place. Alarmed, my husband went to go check on the house and the dog who was there. Fortunately, there wasn't a fire but unfortunately there were several other fires in New Braunfels the fire department needed to attend to. The lightning was hitting hard last night.

The electricity would turn on and off but what was more concerning was the 11 inches of rain we were getting in just 4 hours. News reports of a mobile home floating down the river with people still inside haunts me. I still don't know how they are doing, but I hope they are all okay. A local tubing outfitter, Rockin' R, flooded and all their tubes and rafts floated away and their outbuilding where they were stored collapsed.

Meanwhile, at my house - I was closely watching the water rise higher and higher on the land. As the creek swelled, the driveway became indistinguishable from the rest of the rushing water. On any other given day, you would be able to see the driveway in all of these pictures.

When the rain eased around 8:30 this morning, the water receded and eventually the creek sounded like a trickling stream - peaceful and beautiful. The water is so powerful. School buses used to transport tubers at Rockin' R were strewn about like toys bent around trees, yet there was an quiet calm after the torrential rains. Amazing how powerful the rushing water can be.

Later, after checking on a fix'r upper river house we purchased in downtown New Braunfels - 40 feet over the Guadalupe river - a pair of hot pink underwear was found hooked and dangling 20 feet from one of the sycamore trees in the back of the lot. Flooding or not - gotta love this town.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making Bee Balm Honey


People have relied on honey infused Bee Balm at the first hint of a sore throat. Bee Balm, also known as "Sweet Leaf" (Monarda)has long been used by American Indian healers. Bee Balm is a member of the mint family. All parts of the plant are high in essential oils and has more thymol than thyme. Thymol is a powerful agent found in thyme and bee balm with antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Today, I had my hand at making Bee Balm Honey. I have Bee Balm growing in my herb garden and I've been waiting for it to start blooming for just this occasion. I started by harvesting the flowers, leaves and stems (being careful to groom the plant rather than disfiguring it). Next, I got out a very high quality local honey. I then placed the Bee Balm in a mason jar and then poured the honey into the jar to the point all the parts of the plant were covered. This infusion will take about two weeks. In two weeks, I will remove the plant from the honey and the honey can then be used for sore throats, fevers, or just topping over fresh fruit.

Bee balm can be used in cooking and can be used as an oregano substitute. You csn slso cook with the flowers. It has no known toxicity and is classified with many safe mints used in cooking.

Reference: Mathew Woods "The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicine".

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Today I made a lovely smelling lotion made from calendula flowers and raspberry leaves. I also added wonderful oils and vitamins for collagen rejuvenation. I can't wait to give this one out and see how it works for people's skin. With eyebright extract, I suspect this one will be wonderful as an under eye intensive.

Pictured is the lotion I made today, as well as the first calendula blossom growing on my patio. When I harvested the raspberry leaves they were not fruiting, but thought it was neat to show you all the wonderful raspberries growing in the garden. Perhaps I'll make a raspberry fruit tincture!

Tomorrow, I'm doubling the batch for "orange blossom". This is a wonderful lotion used on the face, hands and body. In using it, I've noticed smoother and softer texture in my skin. It's so pure and clean it is perfect for the face and neck. I'm also going to re-make the sugar facial scrub.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Completed my Herb Classes!

Since January, I've been attending classes taught by Herbalist Nicole Telkes in Austin. Each weekend I've attended these classes in Austin, Blanco or other sites offering a variety of native and naturalized plants that have been studied and used in health and wellness. It's been a fantastic journey. On Sunday, we had our final class where we received our certificates and are now considered certified herbalists.

I presented my project I've been working on for the last six months - a product line that is toxin-free and nutritive for our bodies and skin. I am determined to develop a line that is readily absorbed by our dermal layers promoting skin wellness and vitality. This line will include under eye intesive creams, facial moisturizers and cleansers, body lotion and wash, and lip treatment intensives.

When I get tired or think I've taken on too much with work and herbs, I watch the "10 humans" study conducted by the Environmental Working Group. If you haven't already seen this presentation discussing findings from a research study involving 10 newborn babies in the US - please do!

You can find this by going to www.ewg.org and clicking on the "10 humans" study. While you're there, check out the site. It is a wealth of information. You can also check out their database "Skin Deep", where you can find your cosmetic products you use and see their ingredients and see how it measures up. You'll be surprised how toxic many of our favorite products we grew up using really are.

5 Toxins to Know about


Please read this article posted on cnn.com. It lists and describes five toxins associated with health and neurological function. I've cut and pasted below:
BPA - Bisphenol A

What it does: BPA is a building block of a lightweight, clear, heat-resistant and almost unbreakable plastic called polycarbonate. It's also used in epoxy resins.

Where it's found: Water bottles, baby bottles, reusable food containers, plastic tableware, infant feeding cups, linings of infant formula cans and other cans, jar lids, CDs, electrical and electronic equipment, dental sealants.

How we're exposed: Eating food or drinking liquids stored in containers containing BPA. Infants and small children may also be exposed from hand to mouth contact with materials containing BPA. BPA also migrates from dental sealants into patients' mouths. Fetuses are exposed in the womb by their mothers. Almost everyone has been exposed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in the urine of 93 percent of the people it tested.

Special Report: Toxic America

Health effects: The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, says exposure is so low there are no ill health effects. A new five-year Kaiser Permanente study of Chinese factory workers found higher BPA exposure linked to reduced male sexual function. This research joins a growing body of research on animals that suggests BPA poses a potential cancer risk and may mimic the female hormone estrogen and disrupt the extremely sensitive chemical signals in the body called the endocrine system. According to the Food and Drug Administration, these studies suggest BPA could affect "the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children."

Regulation: BPA is an Environmental Protection Agency "chemical of concern," one of five substances the agency has targeted for increased scrutiny and potential new regulation. (The others are phthalates, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, PBDEs, and perfluorinated chemicals including PFOA.)

The Food and Drug Administration allows BPA in flexible food packaging.

What you can do to reduce exposure: Buy stainless steel bottles and glass food storage containers. If you buy plastic, check for the recycle number on the bottom. If there is a number 7, assume the container contains BPA unless it explicitly says otherwise. Switch to fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. Other precautions include not microwaving or putting hot liquids in BPA plastic containers and throwing away baby bottles and feeding cups that are scratched.


What they do: This family of chemicals softens plastics. They also are used to bind chemicals together.

Where they're found: Shampoos, conditioners, body sprays, hair sprays, perfumes, colognes, soap, nail polish, shower curtains, medical tubing, IV bags, vinyl flooring and wall coverings, food packaging and coatings on time-release pharmaceuticals.

How we're exposed: Absorbed into the body through personal care products, ingested in drugs, on food, in water and dust. Infants can be exposed through infant care products like baby shampoos, lotions and powders. Fetuses are exposed in the womb. Virtually everyone is exposed to phthalates.

Health effects: A new study by the Mount Sinai Center for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research found a statistical association between prenatal exposure to phthalates and incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder years later. Phthalates are considered endocrine disrupters, and studies have shown a statistical association between phthalate exposure and male sexual development. Research has also shown phthalates disrupt reproductive development of male laboratory animals.

Tell us: Is your town toxic?

Regulation: Phthalates are an EPA "chemical of concern." The FDA allows for plastic containing phthalate in flexible food packaging. The U.S. government last year banned or restricted six phthalates for use in children's toys and children's products.

What you can do to reduce exposure: Avoid shampoos, conditioners and other personal care products that list "fragrance" as an ingredient. These may contain phthalates. (Companies are not required to disclose the ingredients in their scents, and the industry says this phthalate is safe.) The federal government recently ended one source of exposure, banning the sale of toys containing any of six phthalates.

PFOA -- Perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8)

What it does: PFOA is used to make Teflon and thousands of other nonstick and stain- and water-repellent products.

Where they're found: PFOA is present in Teflon and other nonstick or stain- and water-repellent coatings as a trace impurity. These coatings are used on cookware, waterproof breathable clothing, furniture and carpets and in a myriad of industrial applications. PFOA can also be produced by the breakdown of these products.

How we're exposed: Inhaling contaminated air, eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water. Some researchers say nonstick pans give off PFOA vapors, which contaminate food.

Health effects: Almost everyone has PFOA in his or her blood. PFOA causes cancer and developmental problems in laboratory animals. The EPA concludes research on PFOA is "suggestive of carcinogenicity but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential."

Regulation: PFOA is an EPA "chemical of concern."

What you can do to reduce exposure: The EPA does not recommend any steps to reduce exposure to PFOA. You can reduce potential exposure by using stainless steel or cast iron cookware. If you use nonstick cookware, do not overheat, which releases toxic gas.

How toxic is your air?


What it does: Formaldehyde is an ingredient in resins that act as a glue in the manufacture of pressed wood products.

Where it's found: Pressed wood products such as particle board, plywood, paneling and fiberboard; also, glues and adhesives and durable press fabrics like drapes.

How we're exposed: Breathing "off-gassing" from products containing formaldehyde. Car exhaust and cigarette smoke also contain formaldehyde.

Health effects: Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, causing cancers of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. Formaldehyde fumes can also cause nausea, skin irritation, watery eyes, or burning eyes, nose and throat.

What you can do to reduce exposure: Buying furniture free from formaldehyde eliminates much of the exposure we face from the chemical. One option to reduce "off-gassing": purchase "exterior grade" pressed-wood products, which emit formaldehyde at significantly lower rates. If you have wood products containing formaldehyde, increase ventilation, reduce humidity with air conditioning or dehumidifiers and keep your home cool.

PBDEs - Polybrominated diethyl ethers

What they do: PBDEs are a group of chemicals used as flame retardants, meaning they reduce the chance of something catching fire and slow how fast it burns when it does catch fire.

Where they're found: PBDEs are found in televisions, computers and wire insulation, and furniture foam. Over time, televisions and other products shed PBDEs, which accumulate in dust. More than 124 million pounds of PBDEs are produced annually worldwide and they do not break down easily.

How we're exposed: Swallowing PBDE-contaminated dust and contact with this dust are the primary routes into our bodies, where they collect in fat tissue. We can also be exposed through food and water. Breast-feeding infants are exposed to PBDEs through their mother's milk and have the highest exposure compared to their body weight, followed by infants and toddlers, according to the data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Levels in humans have been rising rapidly since PBDEs were introduced in the 1960s and '70s.

Health effects: PBDEs accumulate in the body. Toxicology tests show PDBEs may damage the liver and kidneys and affect the brain and behavior, according to the EPA.

Regulation: In December, the EPA named PBDEs "chemicals of concern."

What you can do to reduce exposure: Try to find products without PBDE flame retardants and be sure to sweep up dust.