Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Winter Blues? Seasonal Fruits and Herbs to the Rescue!

Many of us feel better and are more productive when there are dapples of sunlight in our day. In winter; however, we aren't always kindly warmed by the sun's rays...so what should we do to shake away winter blues and blahs?

...Imagine walking down a grove of orange trees....smelling the ripening fruit and the aroma of blossoms covered with honey bees....Ahhhh! Naturally, one would inhale deeply as the soul is fed by the wonderful sweet smells of citrus and blossoms. It wouldn't be long before the aromas therapeutically lifted our spirits. A bit of aromatherapy - mother earth style!

Today, I started linking the chilly blue & gray skies with seasonal produce and evergreen herbs. I started thinking about their connection to our moods and our needs during the winter months.
Citrus is in season...Meyer lemons are ripe for the picking, oranges, limes, grapefruits are in abundance at the grocery stores and the evergreen herbs I have growing in the garden include rosemary, oregano, yarrow, and rose. You may have even more growing in your garden, too! This got me thinking that this is no coincidence. It's earth mother's way of nurturing and supporting us when we need her most.

When you are feeling blah, tear into an orange or a grapefruit with your hands, allowing the oils to infuse the air.
Then, inhale deeply! Eat the fruit for its vitamin packed benefits and save the peels...they can dry naturally on your counter then you can grind them later and add them into vinegar to make a lovely face tonic, hair rinse, and household cleaner. I like to add them to sugar scrubs, too!

Next, head outdoors! Find some rosemary - pick off a bit and either crush it or rub it between your hands. Then, inhale deeply! Your spirit and mind will be invigorated and uplifted.
Gather a bit and cook with it, infuse in tea and sip on it while reading your favorite book...or hill country blog ;) You can use rosemary's leaves and twigs when making infusions. Rosemary is an anti-spasmodic, anti-depressive, and an antiseptic. It stimulates the spirit and eases tension - lovely!

Oregano is a wonderful immune supporter. I use a lot when I cook and make sure to add a lot of garlic, too. Keeping your body healthy and your spirits lifted will help you ward off winter blues and the common cold.

Yarrow also has antiseptic properties. It's also a diaphoretic, so it's an herbal remedy for helping us when we have fevers. A tea can be made by infusing the dried leaves into heated water and can be sipped throughout the day.

And Rose....right now, roses have beautiful rose hips that birds enjoy throughout the winter months. Rose hips are full of vitamin C - a wonderful addition to your immune support regime. Rose hip tea is a nice way to enjoy this winter fruit.

So… coincidence? What do you think?

When I went outside to take pictures for this blog, I also met some other medicinal plants that I wanted to share with you...
Wormwood (also known as desert sage is ceremonially used as a smudging agent, much like sage, to cleanse and purify sacred spaces)
strawberry growing with red clover,

& plantain


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hill Country Herbs in December

Today was a rainy day in the Hill Country...gray skies, no patches of sun, and cool constant light drizzly rain. A slumber day. But of course, by midday, a bit of cabin fever set in and I had to go outside and breathe in fresh earthly goodness.

I first ventured to check on my Cleavers "hot spot" and I was thrilled to see baby Cleavers coming up once again. Cleavers (Gallium aparine) are like precious friends that I wait all year-round to see...and in December they come and make their annual appearance. I'm very excited to see them. I look forward to seeing them take hold and using them in body cleansing infusions and making them into healing oils/salves/lotions.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also another herb that loves cooler temperatures and thrives outdoors in the Hill Country. I have Yarrow growing in the herb garden and planted in pots on the back patio. Yarrow is a tasty little herb that has wonderful flavor. I like to nibble on it in the garden and add the beautiful feather like leaves to salads for a special treat. Yarrow has astringent properties and is also known as "soldier's woundwort" as it has long been used to stop external bleeding when applied to wounds. Anti-inflammatory in nature, it can be applied directly, made into a poultice and can be infused in oils and used in salves and creams.
Here's a picture of my Thyme in the greenhouse. I love this plant - we go back over five years I think. I sit with it, admire it, harvest it, and spoil it...especially this time of year when the tiny green leaves sparkle with life. I like to cook with as much Thyme as I can during the winter months. I attribute health and wellness to Thyme, as it is a wonderful plant full of antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties due to its high Thymol content. It is wonderful infused into oils for cooking or for topical use - how could you not have time for Thyme in your herb garden?
Remember this little hitch hiker? This is the Patchouli plant I carried on the plane with me from Oregon to Texas. I purchased it from Horizon Herb's Richo Cech himself! His lovely wife gingerly wrapped the potted little herb in a cloth covering "diaper" wrapped with twine. I love this little plant, it reminds me of the wonderful time herbhusband and I had at Rootstalk in Salem, Oregon this past September. I'm protecting it in the greenhouse, as it does not like cold temperatures. I'm looking forward to seeing it mature...and although I won't be using it in my skin care potions - I'm happy to have it join the rest of the herbs in the garden.

The Meyer Lemon is at it again. This year, I harvested over 40 lemons and that's not counting the dozen I left on the tree (seen here). I made limoncello with some of the peels - I lovely treat. Squeezing a bit of the juice in water is a wonderful bright pick me up any time of day. The taste is sweet and clean. The yellow Meyer's bring sunshine and joy on this drizzly day. To promote a healthy throat, it's great to have a squeeze of meyer lemon in warm water with a bit of honey. A lovely warm beverage on this cloudy day. That sounds so good, I'm signing off to make a cup and grab a good herb book and rest easy for the rest of the day. Hope you find some time to treat yourself to this lovely infusion some time this winter season.

Wishing you warmth and health herbal friends,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Calendula & Orange Blossom Lotion

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last posting! My sincere apologies for this! As I sit here, I'm realizing just how much I've missed typing and talking with you! Boy, have things been busy...the hill country kitchen is one happening hot spot, that's for sure! Between baking, roasting, sautéing, and chopping...the hill country kitchen has also been transformed into a formulation lab, lol! I've been busy formulating, developing and creating new luxurious lotions for your skin....let's just call it good nutritious skin food!

Here's a sneak peak at my latest:
Calendula and Orange Blossom Lotion
A lotion gentle enough for daily use, yet loaded with anti aging power? Wow! You will want to apply this lotion from head to foot – fall in love with this rich and penetrating skin food! This lotion glides on leaving delicate skin soothed and moisturized. In small handmade batches, I infuse Calendula flowers in high quality extra virgin olive oil to boost this crème with vitality. Formulated for daily use and perfect for people who wash hands often and need their skin to stay nourished and moisturized throughout the day. Jojoba and Calendula complement one another in this skin enhancing formula that is effective and gentle enough for face and neck. Gentle fragrance of sweet orange blossoms and hints of vanilla make this lotion a must have wherever you go. You’ll love this lotion so much; you’ll want one for the vanity, kitchen sink, and office desk!
• Calendula is an effective skin soother and moisturizer. Calendula addresses dry, irritated and damaged skin as well as reduces inflammation and soothes skin disorders.
• Jojoba oil has superb ability to penetrate the skin leaving no greasy residue. Jojoba is most like the natural sebum our skin produces making this a natural way to moisturize and protect our skin. It is high in anti-oxidants and helps relieve many skin irritations.
• Mango butter enhances this lotion by offering essential fatty acids and beneficial moisturizing properties… so luxurious!
• Shea butter is derived from the vegetable fat of the Karite Tree. Shea forms a breathable, water-resistant layer on the skin and has wonderful moisturizing properties.
• Aloe Vera soothes and cools skin with its healing juice and gel. Aloe has anti-inflammatory properties and effectively healing various skin conditions. Gently soothes angry skin.
• This lotion smells soft, sweet and light. Hints of vanilla and orange.

Is your skin craving this?? I can tell you, it is so delicious your skin will just eat it up. Find this listing on Poppy Swap - I can whip up a handmade batch just for you :)


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Decorating With Herbs From the Garden

I had fun making this bouquet. My inspiration for creating this bouquet is my beautiful grandmother, who celebrates her birthday tomorrow.

As I harvested tomatoes, peppers, and Meyer lemons, I suddenly thought of creating a bouquet capturing the bounty of a fall garden in celebration of her birthday. With so many herbs in bloom - the excitement overtook me and before you knew it, I was running back into the house in search of a vase!
In the Hill Country Garden, roses tend to be larger in the fall than in the spring - I think a big part has to do with less pests and insects buzzing about (which are notorious here in the spring. These particular blooms are very cabbage like and they simply smell divine....sweet and clean! Pictured here: Belinda's Dream and Souvenir de la Malmaison.

Zinnia’s do very well here in the Texas Hill Country, as they are native to southern regions of the US and Mexico. They love the heat - thrive on it, actually. Give them plenty of water and they are happy. Although they are not part of the edible garden...their eye popping color and 4 inch blooms offer a feast for the eyes. Topping off the arrangement: Meyer lemon stems and leaves, Thai basil blossoms, arugula blossoms (my favorite in the bouquet...the little yellow flowers dance with whimsy!), and salvia. All of these plants excel in the garden as they help bring in the 3 B's of pollination: butterflies, birds and bees!

Gardening and the joy of plants is a big part of who my grandmother is... who my family is...and who I am. The joy of plants and gardening is in our bones...the thread that brings us together. What a wondrous gift she's passed on to her children...and in turn her grandchildren.

Happy Birthday Grandma!
To many many more!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall Gardening in the Hill Country

The Hill Country loves the fall and so do the veggies in the garden! This Swiss Chard was planted earlier this spring. Over the summer it continued to produce lovely foliage. It was beautiful for visual effect in the garden; however, the hotter it got, the more bitter the leaves became. Now that that the temperatures have cooled, the chard is back to producing delicious, delicate, and flavorful leaves… perfect for raw salads and sautés.

Also planted earlier this spring...my ever producing jalapenos! I've used these darlings in vinegars, dehydrated them and made them into spiced powders and certainly sautéed them into whatever dinner would be enhanced by them! I simply love these hardy plants. They didn't even flinch with this past brutal summer heat and sun. Herbaunt loves to make jalapeno jellies and jams. I'll be seeing her this coming weekend so I'll be bringing her a bag or two of these tasty lovelies!

These are "Black Cherry" tomatoes. They are absolutely my favorite tomato. They are prolific and when picked right off the vine, you're not sure whether it's a tomato or a tasty grape you are biting into! They are so very sweet and firm. Just a lovely fruit...perfect plain or dolled up with olive oil, salt/pepper, a squirt of lemon and garnished with basil blossoms. I'm delighted that the very same plants that gave endlessly this summer are full of blooms and producing delicious fruits this fall. Simply a winner!

Cilantro does well in the fall - I tend to have better luck growing it in the fall than in the spring. Something about the days growing cooler rather than warmer makes this plant sing with happiness. I pick at it so often; it hardly has a chance to grow large. No matter, it's happy and thriving and I love it!

Bell peppers are also rejuvenated and producing lots of blossoms and pepper babies right now. I pick about three ready to eat peppers a week from just the one plant I planted this past spring. I'll say that's a fantastic value!
One of my favorite herbs that has bounced back from the summer heat is Yarrow. I was pretty worried about our Yarrow this summer, as it died back and simply could not tolerate the brutal heat. Once fall arrived, and the days consistently stayed below 100 degrees, the Yarrow sprouted back and is happy as ever. The taste of the new leaves is delicate and delicious. Perfect to add to salads and a quick munch while working in the garden. Recently, herbhusband hurt his ankle. He developed a large bulging knot in his ankle and I prepared Yarrow tea as well as made a foot soak to include Arnica, Yarrow, fresh sprigs of Rosemary and Thyme. He's doing well - he did indeed break his ankle so we are doing our best to get him back to wellness! Incidentally, the Yarrow flowers are desired when making tea.
Ahhh...Zinnias....what can I say about this happy go lucky vibrant flower? They sure make the garden pop with color. Not edible or medicinal, they simply are adored in our garden as they dazzle us with their beauty. Love them - can't say enough about how easy they are to grow from seed and how they produce showy flowers in a short amount of time. Joy!
Our Meyer Lemon is loaded with lemons. We have ours planted in a wine barrel we purchased from Becker Vineyards. We transferred this plant from 1/2 a whisky barrel to this full size wine barrel and it is thriving. There's a couple dozen Meyer lemons ripening on the plant. We love these lemons as they are sweeter, less sour, and seedless. Juicy is an understatement! I enjoy making salad dressing from the juice as well as adding the juice to sautés and teas. Now, our biggest challenge is to move it back into the greenhouse before winter comes!
Our Arugula is doing well, also. It's blooming...signaling the end of season is near :( All the same, we pick off the leaves and add them to our dinner salads. It's amazing to think how we longed for the summer heat to break and in a blink of an eye... our fall is fading....
This is definitely the time of year to harvest, collect all the seeds you can, overwinter your beloved plants, and plan for next spring. But, for now....we are munching on our greens and enjoying the lovely evenings...hope you are too!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Raspberry Calendula Under Eye and Neck Intensive

Doesn't this crème look delicious? It is! Made with organic calendula and raspberry leaves infused in extra virgin olive oil blended with aloe vera, rose and peppermint floral water and vitamins for your skin goodness! Neem oil and eyebright extract also lend wonderful nutritive properties!

My skin just drinks it up and my neighbor tells me she loves the way her skin glows with happiness each time she uses it. This lotion loves maturing skin - it truly unleashes your skin's smile!

I had created an account about a month ago on PoppySwap.com and recently I met the owner of Poppy Swap - Kiki - at Rootstalk in Salem, Oregon. She really motivated me to finish setting up my online store. So, this weekend I added this wonderful replenishing crème to my online Poppy Swap store. This brings me one step closer to my mission: helping reduce pollution in people one product at a time!

Every time you replace a beauty product for one that is toxin and artificial preservative free - you are helping your body process less toxins...less toxins equals less stress on your hard working organs!

I'm taking orders now until Mid November for holiday gifts. Interested in giving nutritive, luxurious, glowing goodness to your friends and family this holiday season? Contact me at hillcountryherbalist@gmail.com and I'll walk you through the ordering process!

Now...I'm off to work in the herbal kitchen and gardens...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Seeds and Herbs for Fall

Ahhhh....October 1st! Actually, It's rather hard to believe after such a harsh summer here in Texas. We skipped spring and went right into 100 degree weather before summer officially started. But now, as the breeze is stronger and cooler and the leaves on the trees are trickling down; I am motivated to sow seeds and plant herbs for fall gardening.

This is the time to sow bee balm, calendula, spring wildflowers, and poppy seeds! I have a bag full of seeds to sow this evening. I love sprinkling mother earth with seeds - I find it whimsical and fun.

I planted broccoli, cabbage, cilantro, parsley, arugula and a variety of lettuce before the trip to Rootstalk in Salem, Oregon last weekend. I’m happy to report the plants are strong and doing well. The roses in the garden are budding and I'm looking forward to heavy blooms in later this month.

I'm getting my Rootstalk (a celebration of plants, people, and planet) blog ready this weekend. What a wondrous festival where we met lovely people and beautiful plants. Oregon is a beautifully conscientious state. I'm so thankful and well rested after experiencing cooler temperatures and riveting discussions at the festival. Something this Texas girl desperately needed!

Just a quick hello for now - more to come....
In the meantime, check out my facebook page (Hill Country Herbalist) as I will be uploading more pictures from Rootstalk!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Edible and Medicinal Hill Country Herbs Thriving in the Late Summer Heat

Here in the Hill Country (and most of Texas, actually) we've not seen any real rain since last fall. We've had record temperatures and months and months of very hot dry weather. Couple a long drought with hot weather and we have more than dying trees and plants to worry about! We've been experiencing random fires popping up everywhere - all it takes is a careless toss of a lit cigarette or even a car idling in the grass. It's scary.

Just this week we had weather in the 90's and let me tell you - after weeks and weeks of 100+ degrees - the 90's feels pretty darn nice!!

I thought I'd post about our Texas Herb Hero's this evening as I sit in the garden and enjoy the cool northern breeze. These herbs not only sustained the miserable dangerous heat all on their own, with little to no water- they proved that even in the roughest of times you can count on them for medicine and food. Here are a few of the lovely, juicy, delicious and medicinal plants thriving and withstanding hungry deer and brutal weather in the Texas Hill Country:

Briar or Smilax bona-nox: Although this speckled leafed thorny plant looks like it would be too tough to digest, the smooth new shoots and leaves are quite edible and tasty. The young leaves can be enjoyed straight off the vine and tastes a bit like asparagus. You can harvest the young leaves and cook them as well – although some see this thorny plant as a headache – it’s actually quite useful as a food.

The root tubers can also be prepared to improve male fertility as well as easing PMS in women. I plan on harvesting the root and incorporating it into a special salve for skin ailments.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): Leaves can be harvested the first year and the flowers can be harvested the second year. It will bloom in its second year. Lighting the leaves and inhaling a bit of the smoke has been an herbal remedy for asthma symptoms as well as respiratory symptoms. The leaves can be infused in water and drunk like a tea to ease a distressed respiratory system and sinus infections. With all the Texas wildfires – this is a good plant to have on hand to help our boost our respiratory systems.

If you follow this blog, you also know I use the leaves in my “Happy Camper” lotion to skin exposed to the elements and from a hard day gardening. The flowers can also be infused in oils to help with ear aches as well as made into salves and lotions for the skin. All parts of this soft and gentle herb can be used: roots and all. It’s a true gift to find one of these plants on the property.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea): This little plant seems to pop up in potted plants all around my garden. It does very well with little water and brutal sun. The Purslane I have produces small yellow flowers. The juicy red stems are one of its identifying traits. Purslane can be tossed into salads or lightly stir fried with olive oil. It’s a tasty food and keeper in my book!

Finally, let's not forget our long trusty and faithful friend - Cactus. Right now, the fruit, or tunas, are deep deep red and ready to be pureed into something special. Last year, Herbhusband and I made prickly pear margaritas!

Within this dry landscape is our fenced in well tended garden producing flowers and food. It is a spoiled garden heavily dependent on our daily tending in order to thrive. However, it is valuable to know which plants naturally thrive and grow around us - solely dependent on nature and not on human contributions. I enjoy seeing and meeting these wise, strong, medicinal plants as they thrive under these harsh weather conditions. It's as if meeting an elder from centuries past. They seem to share stories of long ago as well as teach the importance of contributing to their land through their perseverance and will to survive.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Loving Lavender - Drink it, clean with it, love it!

I'm in love with lavender. Lavender, Lavendula officinalis, is one lovely herb. Flowers can be gathered in late summer, dried and used in wellness blends, beauty products, and cleaning products, as well as aromatherapy. In my full exploration of this herb, I've tried and used it in all sorts of concoctions and at the end of the day - grew a true and loyal love to this amazing herb. Here's why:

- Lavender has an anti-spasmodic or soothing effect to smooth muscle tissue including our digestive tract
- Lavender relaxes and helps the body release nervous tension. It helps the central nervous system by allowing it to relax and promotes calmness and sleep.
- Very good when sipped as a tea for relieving headaches related to tension as well as allowing the body to "take a deep breath" in order to mend and rest.
- Knowing there is a mind and digestive tract connection...it's no wonder this herb works wonders on assisting with anxiety/depression, digestive disorders, and promoting rest and relaxation! When our digestive tissues are positively affected and our central nervous system is encouraged to relax - the result is bliss!

When I started drinking lavender infusions, I had no agenda. I simply wanted to learn this herb and wanted to add it to food, beverages, beauty products, cleaning products...all in an effort to fully explore this herb and fully enjoy its beauty.

When I started using it in my facial scrubs and serums I noted a cleaner and clearer complexion. I attributed this to its antibacterial properties. When I started drinking this herb, I noted my typical "type A" brain became more grounded and less "worried and shifty in thought". I was able to nap (something I don't tend to do...ever! I slept so soundly at night and I woke up knowing I hadn't tossed or turned all night. I was amazed how my typical anxious nature had settled as if my entire body had breathed a giant sigh of relieve and finally rested.

Herbhusband also concluded the same results, proving even a "type b" could further relax and rest! Imagine that!

Here’s a wonderful way to drink lavender. I simply love this and hope you do, too!
Lavender Infused Lemonade

- juice 6 large lemons
- 3 tablespoons lavender blossoms
- 4 tablespoons local honey
- water

To make lavender/honey simple syrup to sweeten the lemonade, bring a couple cups of water to a boil, take off heat and dissolve local honey and introduce/infuse lavender to the heated liquid. Let sit and infuse for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, strain out the blossoms and you have beautiful lavender simple syrup.

In a pitcher, add the juice of 6 large lemons and add 6 cups water. Add the lavender simple syrup and stir. I like mine a bit tart, so if this recipe is too tart for you, simply add more water ;) Serve over ice with a sprig of fresh mint and enjoy the goodness!

Now on to cleaning! Now that you are all refreshed and hydrated let's explore lavender's antiseptic properties as a cleaning solution. This is a wonderful way to keep your surfaces clean for a fraction of the cost of "green" cleaning solutions on the market. This is one of my favorite all purpose cleaners:

Lavender Citrus Vinegar All Purpose Cleaner

- 1/2 cup lavender blossoms
- 1/4 cup citrus peels
- 32 oz white distilled vinegar

In a jar, place all ingredients and seal. Let sit for 2-3 days. Shake daily. After the 2nd or 3rd day, strain depleted lavender and citrus peels from the infusion. Bottle and add 10 drops lavender essential oil and 10 drops thyme essential oil if desired. (To make this infusion go even further, you can add one part distilled water to 4 parts vinegar infusion and it works very nicely, as well).

Don't you love the gorgeous pink tone the vinegar takes on? Works like a charm on granite, marble, stainless steel, and many other surfaces. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Early Memories: A Little Herbalist In The Making

When I look back at my earliest memories as a child I remember mulberries and pomegranates.

What a wondrous gift to be born to a family who simply loved and celebrated plants. My dad is a biology major and I grew up with a scope in my hand looking at insect larva, eggs that were freshly laid on leaves, stamens and pistils in flowers, or whatever else he would show me. I’m so thankful for that.

My paternal grandparents loved plants, too. My grandfather and grandmother would hold me in their arms as they showed me all the plants they grew in their gardens…images fill my mind with hibiscus, begonias, pecan trees, fruit trees, potted herbs, and much more. My grandfather passed away a couple of years ago. I have one of the last hibiscus cuttings he made in full bloom on the front page of my blog and the hibiscus lives on in my garden.

However, It’s not often I remember my maternal grandmother, and tonight, my memories are awakened of her. Grandma passed when I was only 8 – some 28 years ago.

When I was 3 or so years old, I remember climbing up her rather large mulberry tree with my cousin Lin. We would laugh and giggle and simply eat our weight in mulberries! One afternoon, as my mother and aunts visited in chairs around the tree, I climbed down to get some of the grapefruit my mom was peeling. She gave me a segment of grapefruit and I did what I always did as a child….I dug into the segment to grab the tiny pulp, held it between my fingers, and then held it up to my aunt’s face and said “fishy fishy!”

Obviously, I didn’t have all my words developed just yet but I remember getting extreme joy from showing her the shiny juicy pulp shaped like a whale or “fish”. I remember my aunt laughing and encouraging me – what a magical moment. I then remember running back up the mulberry tree, which had nailed in boards on the trunk for easy climbing, and sharing more time with my dear cousin Lin.

What a joyous childhood. Life was simple. Life was outdoors and filled with fresh smells and tastes of our plant friends.

When we got tired of the mulberry tree, my cousins and I would run circles around the pomegranate tree in my Grandma's front lawn. I remember getting my hands on a pomegranate and peeling it open for the first time – staring at the jeweled bright red fruit – it was simply fanciful! To taste that fruit opened my senses for sure! It felt magical and special – there is something very special about pomegranates. To this day, I celebrate this memory and this regal fruit by incorporating it in some way during the holidays.

Certainly, my maternal grandmother loved plants – she didn’t have much money but she certainly knew the importance of plants and the garden. I didn’t get to know her very well, as she passed so young….but she left behind generations imprinted with her love and her love of plants.

I think it’s amazing how early in our childhood most of us connect to the earth in a deep and wondrous way. We love our mother earth…the insects…the animals…the plants….ourselves and our family.

Somewhere along the way, some of us get lost. We forget mother earth…we forget the beautiful animals and plants as we work to make a living. Sometimes, it’s good to let go and re-connect…connect back to our roots. The roots of our ancestors and the roots of our earth….

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Late Summer Brings Jalapeno Pepper Bounty: Now What?

Hurray for summer and hurray for late summer harvests! One of the most prolific plants we have growing in the hill country garden (besides tomatoes) is jalapeno. We are harvesting about 40 jalapenos a week! They are gorgeous, shiny and plump! We don't use any pesticides or toxic matter in our gardens, so this is all pure and unadulterated goodness!

I had to start thinking creatively here....what to do with 40 jalapeno peppers per week? I've certainly given out plenty to friends so I had to think of responsible ways to preserve and celebrate this bounty.

Aha! Time for the dehydrator!

In very short order, I cleaned and sliced a couple dozen peppers and arranged them on the dehydrator tray sheets. Aren't they magnificent?

While I was at it, I sliced up some bell peppers and heirloom tomatoes from the garden and added them to the dehydrator, too.

When tomatoes are dehydrated, their flavors get concentrated and are so mouth wateringly delicious! They can be stored and used throughout the year. They can be used as a chip with dips and they can be ground and added to season foods - it's incredible flavor that can’t be beat.

Once the sliced peppers were fully dehydrated, I just took time to marvel at this beautiful fruit. It seems the more you work foods into different forms (infusions, dehydrated, raw, cooked, pureed, etc.), the more you get to know and appreciate what it has to offer.

As I held the peppers in my hands and smelled the intoxicating smoky sweet aroma it exuded, I began to think about how lovely this would be powdered and ground into spice.

Before I did that, I offered one of the dried slices to herbhusband whose face and eyes after eating it turned bright red....after a couple coughs and a bit of beer - he smiled and said how delicious the pepper was. Although the flavor of the pepper is deepened the heat was very much intact!

Seeing I was in one of my "busy body" moods, I grew more excited about grinding these peppers into spice. Out came my trusty grinder and as I placed handful after handful of these lovely jalapeno pepper chips in the grinder - I knew I was on to something good!

As I started to grind the peppers, the fine powder filled the air and absolutely took my breath away! I realized the vital potency of the peppers was so strong I needed to cover my nose before I continued to grind! Wow, were they strong! My eyes watered and I coughed a bit. Once I used a scarf to shield my nose I was back in business!

The result was pure delight. A beautiful spice was being created before my eyes! I continued to grind - seeds and all.

This is really worth doing and I recommend you try this at home… The rich color and rich aroma is mouth watering and irresistible.

This is what a couple dozen sliced, dehydrated and ground peppers looks like! Amazing -

Now, instead of staring at jalapenos sitting on the counter top getting wrinkly from not being able to eat them in time, I can enjoy and share this deep...rich...aromatic spice with friends and family all year long. I can hardly wait to sprinkle some on deviled eggs and in soups!

Now...what to do with the rest of the 60 jalapenos I picked out of the garden? I see pickled jalapenos in apple cider vinegar in my future ;)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Herb Pesto: Capturing Summer's Herbal Bounty

When it comes to cooking, I like to break the rules. Traditional pesto includes basil, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and salt/pepper to taste. Fresh pesto is divine. It's delicious and full of mouth popping flavor.

One evening, I committed to making pesto for dinner and realized I didn't have enough basil to harvest from in the garden. Inspired by the other herbs in the garden, I began to harvest Greek oregano, thyme, sage, Thai basil, jalapeno peppers (mild), and chives. Into the blender they all went!
I added pine nuts, garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. I left the cheese out since I like it just as much without it.

The blend was harmonious and exciting! I placed a small pool of the pesto directly on a plate and gently nestled seared scallops on the pesto. For the salad, I placed fresh greens with tomatoes from the garden and I took some of the left over pesto and added a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Whalaa! A complimentary salad dressing was made. This evening meal was joyous and herbhusband still raves about it to friends. Since it brought such happiness to our palette, I wanted to share this idea with you to hopefully bring joy to yours! Bon appétit!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

10th International Herb Symposium: Massachusetts

Just returned back to Texas from the 10th International Herb Symposium held on the Wheaton College campus in Massachusetts. The campus was just beautiful….so many beautiful trees in bloom, rich lush plants, and lovely ponds. Rosemary Gladstar, dubbed the fairy godmother of plants and herbalists alike, is behind this educational and spiritual movement furthering our deep appreciation of medicinal plants. The herb symposium not only brings together herbalists from all over the world; it also benefits the nonprofit organization, United Plant Savers, she lovingly founded.

Speakers included Susun Weed, Michael Tierra, David Winston, Phyllis Light, Michael Friedman, Mark Blumenthal, Paul Stamets, CoreyPine Shane, Todd Elliott, Margi Flint, jim mcdonald, and many others.

Opening Ceremonies welcomed herbalists far and wide. Attendees entered into a beautiful chapel on campus; opening our hearts with Hawaiian, Native American, and Shaman chants and prayers. White sage purified all who entered this sacred space. With joy in our hearts we were off to further or knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs.

I’ll only feature a couple of classes in this entry, but keep in mind the amount of information received in this 3 day conference was intense! Also, stay tuned for a special guest blog entry from herbhusband! He concentrated on medicinal mushrooms and their benefits to our ecosystem as well as on the amazing work of the honey bee.

The Dirty Dozen: 12 plant roots and their benefits with Matthias and Andrea Reisen of Healing Spirits Herb Farm and Education Center.

When I decided to take this class, I thought we would pass around baskets of dried and fresh roots and review their common uses, etc. Then, I see Andrea Reisen clinging to a pitch fork and the very tall Matthias telling us all – we are going to have class, but it won’t be in here! Off to the campus landscapes we go! The goal? To find 12 plants known for their medicinal qualities, specifically their roots, naturally growing on and around campus. Here are some of the plants we found:

#1)Dandelion(Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is often considered a "weed" and found along roadsides and in lawns throughout the United States. However, if you have a pesticide free lawn, instead of discarding this plant, harvest it and utilize it for its nourishing properties. Dandelion is high in vitamins A and C. Newer leaves can be eaten in fresh salads. Aerial parts of the plant can be tinctured and taken as a bitter to aid liver function and digestion.
The root can be eaten fresh, sautéed with olive oil and salt/pepper and makes a delicious side dish. It can be dried and infused and sipped on as a coffee substitute. This is a wondrous gift we have growing all around is, it's time we celebrate dandelion and find room for it in our daily lives.

Barberry's woody root and stems contain alkalines, most beneficially, berberine. Berberine has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. When the woody exterior is scraped off with a knife, the inner bark reveals the bright yellow color synonymous with berberine. The more tender roots can be scraped, dried 75-80 percent and tinctured.

#3) Poke Weed
Poke is listed in many books as poisonous, but when you talk to seasoned herbalists, they tend to see the benefits of this plant and appreciate its properties. Touching the root can cause contact dermatitis in some people. I tend to be a sensitive person and I held the root without any side effects from the direct contact. Matthias says to dig it up in early spring or fall, before or after the bloom stalk so all the energy is restored in the root. Some herbalists have used is assisting with tumors and lymphatic flow since it's considered a lymphatic mover.

#4) Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)

Member of the poppy family offering yellow blooms (bi-annual). The whole plant can be used - dry it, grind it and tincture it since it's too strong to drink as a tea. The "orange blood" that comes from breaking off a piece of the root can be applied directly to warts on the skin. This plant likes to grow along the edges of wooded areas and prefers part sun and part shade.
#5) Solomon’s Seal

Andrea says this is, "The candy of the root family....It's like the earth is giving you its sweetness. When you eat it it's like being wrapped by mother earth". Solomon’s Seal is good for ligaments. Andrea gave an example of a dog who had been hit by a car and the dog's jaw was misaligned. Worried the owner dropped some Solomon’s Seal tincture under the dog's tongue and on the way to the vet the jaw had moved back into place. The effect it has on ligaments is why this can be an herbal favorite. The best way to harvest this plant is to take some of the root and replant the plant along with the nodes and it will grow back in its place. Prefers to grow in shade under trees.

#6) Japanese Knotweed
Also known as "Mexican Bamboo" this plant is considered evasive and hard to control once planted. Smaller rhizomes can be used since the larger ones are too hard on blenders and machines when attempting to break it down. It's said this root is used in Lyme disease remedies as well as in cancer since it is said to build up the immune system. People prefer to take it along with a mucilaginous plant since Japanese Knotweed is astringent and drying. Harvest early spring or fall when most of the energy of the plant returns to the roots.

#7) Mullein Root

Mullein is a bi-annual and best harvested when not in flower. Mullein root has been used with older people who have trouble with urinary incontinence. It can be made as a tea or tincture and it was discussed during the walk that it would be ideal for nursing homes to serve as a tea. David Winston also uses it for face pain associated with Palsy.

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief with David Winston

"What herbalists (know) is too good to be kept in a corner some place - there are so many things we can do to help medicine work better. Specificity must increase among herbalists. Good herbal medicine is to learn to treat the person not the disease. Stop thinking about diseases and start thinking about the plant, the person and the timing." David Winston

The idea of adaptogens dates back to around 1947 and was coined by Dr. Breckman who defined adaptogens as plants with non specific, general operation which have a normalizing effect on the body with little to no side effects. Breckman is considered the "father of adaptogen research".

Adaptogens, taken over time, assist with a wide variety of conditions but specifically increases our body's ability to deal with stresses and conditions our body to have a more appropriate response to the stress.

David Winston was emphatic about herbalists needing to boost their knowledge of how herbs work within the body; increasing the science element in addition to the work herbalists are doing around the world.

All adaptogens have antioxidant activity but not all antioxidants are adaptogens.

Panossian expanded research on what adaptogens do. Panossian and Wagner found a cellular mechanism for adaptogenic activity. Adaptogens activate chaperone molecules know as heat shock proteins (this inhibits the mitochondria and ATP production). Essentially, what occurs is the "engines of our cells" become more effective in responding to stress hormones released in the body. Adaptogens prime the body and prevent the effects of stress from damaging our cellular machinery.

Microbial endocrinology found increases in stress hormone levels can cause us to be more susceptible to infection and disease. Adaptogens can help prevent bacterial infections by decreasing cortisol levels.

David Winston discussed these well researched adaptogens in class:

- American Ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius)
The wildcrafted root is endangered. Please avoid promoting and harvesting and only purchase by ethical plant growers. American ginseng is neutral and warming. Good for adrenal exhaustion.

- Ashwagahdha root (Withania somnifera)
This can be grown in the US. It's an annual and in one year, it produces a good root to harvest from. Likes hotter drier areas in the garden. If you can grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, David says you can grow this plant.
Native to India, it is one of the calming adaptogens and used by many to assist with generalized anxiety disorder. Used also for autoimmune muscular conditions where the connective tissues and muscles are affected. Not to be given to people with hyper thyroid or anyone on thyroid medications. It is high in iron.

- Asian ginseng root (Panax ginseng)

This root comes in two forms: red and white. The white has been dried and the red has been steamed. Red is more stimulating and white is warming. This root is really too stimulating for most people, so the American ginseng is better suited. Asian ginseng really shouldn't be used by most people since it is over stimulating. This root is reserved for those who are completely depleted and exhausted to the point they can't function at any point in the day. Winston says it's been used for old men to build up vital energy.

- Eleuthero bark (Eleutherococcus senticosis)

Used mostly for younger people under temporary stress. It is one of the mildest adaptogens. Best in fluid extract. It is good for stressed out Type A's and good when taken over time. I'm actually taking this now (as I'm a renowned stressed out Type A, lol) and after about a week, I really started feeling brighter. I'm also easily over stimulated so I wanted to start with a milder adaptogen. I'm very happy with my Eleuthero tincture.

- Licorice rhizome (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis)
Increases potassium and decreases sodium in the body when taken. Good in small amounts. Helps with irritated bowels from IBS or IBD. Good for dry coughs and animal dander sensitivities.

- Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, O. gratissimum)
Mildly stimulating, enhances focus and decreasing brain fog. Winston referred to this herb as "lovely". He also said it is taken to assist with seasonal allergies, stagnant depression or situational depression that becomes permanent due to an event that a person can't seem to get past. Good with rosemary and rose petals for instances like this.

As you can see, the herb symposium was full of informative speakers and nonstop entertainment. Other activities included morning yoga, summer solstice celebration, product making contests, all you can drink herbal teas, a cookie social and book signing, the sweet sounds of Rising Appalachia, keynote by Paul Stamets of "Fugni Perfecti" and so much more.

It was really fun to attend the International Herbalists Ball with the Eames Brothers Band. A special Kava punch was served, a specialty by Rosemary Gladstar, and everyone was having a sensational time.

If you ever have an opportunity to attend this event, or any other herb conference, you'll surely have a great time!