Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

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 ;)