Saturday, May 20, 2017

8 Ways to Love Elderflowers

There are many ways to enjoy elderflowers.  Standing by the tree and enjoying the scent is one of them.  Looking closely at their beauty, and brushing their softness against your cheek is another.  Bringing them inside, you can find so many ways to love this gentle, healing flower.
Elderflower has traditionally been used in skin preparations.  It can also kick a cold to the curb.

1. Elderflower Tea

Just the blossoms steeped in water with a little honey is delicious, but even better to snip a few leaves of mint or anise hyssop to add their flavors.

 2. Elderflower Champagne

Check out the blog post for full instructions from Marita Orr.

3. Elder Blossom Salt Scrub
Fine pink Himalayan salt is nice to use, but any sea salt works.  Table salt works too, but the added minerals in sea salt are nice for your skin.
To the salt, mix one part (by volume) botanicals with ten parts salt.
Add a squirt of lemon juice to keep flowers from browning.
If you have a good blender, grind the salt, flowers, and lemon juice together.
Spread the mixture on a sheet of parchment overnight to dry.
Use about equal parts of salt mixture and an oil. Olive oil is fine, or you can choose something like sweet almond or apricot kernal for a lighter color and feel.
If you'd like to add a scent to this, include no more than 10 drops per ounce.
Or follow these directions using elderflower for a sugar scrub

4. Elder Blossom Cordial
Fill a pint jar loosely with elderflowers.
Add 1/2 lemon.
Pour in 1/2 cup sugar.
Cover with alcohol (I use 150 proof vodka).
Allow to sit and meld together for several weeks, shaking occasionally.

After about a month, taste it and see if it is sweet enough.  If not, add a little more sugar, shake, and allow to rest for another week or two.
Strain, bottle, and label.  Drink on a fine midsummer night.

Add honey instead of sugar for an elixir, and skip any sweetener for a tincture.

5. Granny's Salve

1/2 cup elderflower infused olive oil
1/4 cup nettle infused olive oil
1/4 cup comfrey infused olive oil
1/8 cup (about 2 T) beeswax

You can infuse this oil all at one time by gathering corresponding amounts of herbs, wilting them, and then heating gently in about a cup and a quarter of oil.
Heat together about 1/4 of the oil with the beeswax until the wax melts.  Add the rest of the oil and continue to heat until everything is liquid. 
Pour into jars and label.
For more info on infusing oils and making balms and salves -

6. Elderflower Hair Rinse
This is wonderful if you use a shampoo soap bar and need a little vinegar to close the hair shaft after washing...

4 handfuls fresh elderflowers
2 pints water
2 pints cider vinegar

Boil the elderflowers in the water, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and infuse for an hour.  Strain and add the cider vinegar.  Bottle.  Leave for 48 hours before use.  After washing your hair use a cup of the rinse on the hair.

7. Garden Bath Herbs
Right now, any of these can be found in my yard, and they all make a wonderful soothing bath tea.

wild oats
violets – flowers and leaves
witch hazel

Gather a large handful of those you'd enjoy using - or those that are in your vicinity.
If you have a big muslin bag, fill it with the botanicals.  Otherwise, a tea towel will work.  Place the botanicals in the middle, and leaving plenty of space for the leaves and flowers to swim around, rubberband or tie them inside the towel.

Steep them for at least 15 minutes in a large pan of boiled water. 
Add that water to a drawn bath, and hop in.

8. Elderflower Fritters
Snip umbels of open blossoms, leaving them whole.
Make a thin pancake batter, adding a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and some lemon zest.
Heat oil in a heavy pan.
Dip the umbels into the batter using the stem as a handle.
Place into the pan and fry until golden brown.

Bonus points if you made violet syrup to drizzle on top.  OR follow those directions substituting elderflowers for violets, and make elderflower syrup!

That's closer to a dozen - but you can never love them too much!  Be sure to dry any flowers you don't use.  They can be added to teas or face washes.

Our e-book can tell you many more ways to love this flower - and the berries to follow:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Summertime Teas

Most of my blog entries come about because there is either something I don't want to think about, or something else I am avoiding doing.  This is true again on both counts today.  So today we make tea! 
First up is a tea made from a walk in the yard.  There are several good, tasty options out there right now.  Some I didn't choose would be nettles, sage, mint, and pine or fir tips.  I had a plan, see?
The leaves of raspberry and blueberry made a tasty infusion, so I wanted to base the blend on them.  Here we go...

First stop was the row of black raspberries.  They're starting to form tiny berries.  They must have blossomed last week when we were busy with other things. 
Then the *just* opened-this-very-day-for-the-first-time elder blossoms grabbed me firmly by the nose and dragged me over their way to choose one perfect umbel.
I made my way to the lemon balm and picked a few sprigs.  You may not see that area, though.  It's hard to find the lemon balm through the weeds.  Beside that, there were beautiful leaves from black currant and gooseberry.
On the far end of the yard, the lush and succulent blueberry leaves called.

Headed towards the door, I grabbed two little sprigs of anise hyssop.
 All of it went into the French press.
While it steeped, I put some lemon and blueberries into a quart mason jar.
In the meantime, I chopped the rest of the lemon and put it into the big gallon refrigerator jar, and put more water on to heat. 
 A muslin bag was filled loosely with some flavored green tea.  We've been making gallons of tea a couple times a week this spring, and it is so nice to have it handy and cold.
So here's the verdict.
The Backyard Berry Tea was overtaken by the anise hyssop, but in a very pleasant way.  It will develop overnight in the fridge, and tomorrow Molly will love it!

Now I have to find something else to occupy my mind...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

7 Great Weeds Waiting Outside Right Now

At this time of year, we gardeners look out at the garden and wonder if we'll ever get things in shape again.  In fact, it seems to be early here in our little 6b zone in PA.
Those plants are waiting to help you.  Many of them are delicious edibles, and all of them offer vast quantities of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial properties.  Here's a very short intro.  You CAN learn to love them.


Chickweed has many uses.  It is extremely nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals,  and can be added to soups, stews, egg dishes, and salads.  It makes a fabulous pesto! It is best used fresh, but grows constantly throughout the year in most regions.  I can usually find it beneath the snow if I look in protected areas under trees and shrubs, or against buildings. Many herbalists suggest chickweed for weight loss.  It contains saponins, which may help to bind fats and remove them from the body.
Gail Faith Edwards wrote, “Chickweed has great healing, cooling, drawing, and dissolving abilities.  Try it when you want to bring a boil or pimple to a head, dry up herpes blisters, clean up an infected wound, or extract a splinter.  Applied as a poultice, chickweed stops infection by weakening bacteria cell walls."


This clingy, leggy springtime weed has a lot to offer! It can help clear the lymph system, and we have lymph nodes all over our bodies. It is a diuretic and helps with bladder, liver, and kidney issues, in turn helping with skin issues that result from an overworked liver.  In fact, most of what I've learned is that cleavers is the "spring cleaner" of the body. Don't overlook this weed.  It is best used fresh, so it is commonly tinctured or juiced.


The roots are used to purify blood, cleanse & detoxify the liver, improve digestion and many other conditions.  The whole plant contains high amounts of vitamins and minerals. The flowers are infused in oil to use externally on aches and pains, and the yellow rays are used in wine, jelly, and baked goods.  The leaves are an excellent diuretic that does not pull potassium from the body.  There is a real theme here, isn't there?  In the early spring, the plants help us to get rid of the sludge that we've built up over the winter!

Garlic Mustard

I haven't seen a lot of health benefits attributed to this weed yet, but there are an infinite number of recipes out there on the web with a simple search. Let's face it, pesto makes a LOT of sense with this one!  And it is everywhere. This delicious green has a mild garlic flavor. It is chock full of good stuff, including minerals galore, like potassium, calcium, selenium, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese. Vitamins A and C are in there, and it is one of those precious plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The roots can be processed and used very similarly to horseradish.  As they say... If you can't beat it, eat it!

Stinging Nettles

Ahhh... I daydream about the nettles towards the end of February.  This emerald beauty, though tricky to harvest, has something about it so that when you eat it, you can sense that you have been nourished in a very profound way.  It is one of the herbs that work as a "nourishing infusion" but I like to steam it, add butter, and eat it.  We tincture it particularly to help with spring allergies (and are thankful that it shows up right on time), and dry it for teas.  There are packages of whole leaves in the freezer for meals later in the year.
According to herbalist Susan Evans, "Nettle is very high in iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B complex, A, C, K and chlorophyll. I use it in most of my teas and elixirs; it’s just so darn good for you. It has been used for chronic urinary infections and bladder problems, joint pain, to nourish the nervous system, support bones, relieve exhausted adrenals, lower blood pressure, give you a full, healthy head of hair, and for seasonal allergies. The roots are used to relieve symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia."


In early spring, add some leaves of plantain to your salads, soups, or potherbs. It is high in calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorous, zinc, copper and cobalt and vitamins A, C, and K. It soothes the entire intestinal tract with the mucilage it contains.  Kristine Brown writes, "Medicinally, Plantain is alterative, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anthelmintic, antivenomous, astringent, expectorant, decongestant, demulcent, deobstruent, depurative, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, hemostatic, kidney tonic, ophthalmic, mucilaginous, refrigerant, restorative and vulnerary."
We use it constantly for stings from bees, spiders, and bugs, or for plant rashes (like when we're harvesting nettle).

Raspberry leaves

Our local wild raspberries are black raspberries.  The leaves make a delicious herbal tea AND they have pretty much the same benefits that we've learned apply to red raspberries - such as being a tonic for the female reproductive system, a cooling herb for hot weather, and for relieving stomach pain. It's been used for mouth sores and gum issues, too. Lots of magnesium, potassium, iron, and B vitamins!

That's a good start, isn't it?  As the days go on, there will be more and different weeds coming to help us.  In fact, if you look at the right hand corner of the raspberry picture above, you'll see jewelweed starting to put out true leaves.  Our helpers and allies are everywhere.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Purple Archangel (Dead Nettle) Enchiladas by Jamie Jackson

In the current issue of The Essential Herbal we asked our friends and readers to share their favorite wild plant dishes.  We got many terrific recipes!  Jamie has mentioned these enchiladas in the past and I was thrilled to get the recipe.  Now while the dead nettles are in wild abundance, it's time to try it!

Purple Archangel (Dead Nettle) Enchiladas
Jamie Jackson

I sauté 1.5 quarts purple archangel for 20 minutes in a broth.  Meanwhile, I'm making enchilada sauce:

This is the base recipe, I usually make this x3

1/4 C oil
1/4 C flour (I use GF)
1/2 t black pepper
1/8 t salt
1 t garlic powder
2 t cumin
1/2 t oregano
1 T chili powder
Less than 2 cups of water (you can use broth, but don't add salt)

Cheese for sprinkling on top (a cup or so)

Make just like a gravy.  Fry the flour and spices in oil for a few minutes.  Slowly add the liquid, stirring constantly.  A flat wooden spatula is nice to continuously scrape the bottom of the pan. Simmer on low, until the consistency of enchilada sauce out of can (not thick like gravy, you will be cooking this again.)
Cover thickly the bottom of your pan with the enchilada sauce.

Heat corn tortillas on a hot cast iron comal for a few seconds until they wilt over the side when slid to the edge (usually 11 seconds one side 3-4 seconds the 2nd side.)  Keep them warm in a towel.

Mix 1/4 cup of your enchilada sauce into your cooked greens and stir. 

Put a tortilla on a cutting board, cover the surface with enchilada sauce using a spoon.  Put green filling in the middle along with any shredded cheese, wild chives or whatever else.

Roll up, put in pan on top of the enchilada sauce.  When done, completely smoother with the rest of the enchilada sauce and top with some grated cheese.

Put in the oven till the cheese is melted.  I do mine on the stove top in a massive wok.  I can get about 8 enchiladas in there. I put the flame on low and cover.  I keep peeking till the cheese on top is melted and you are done!
If I think I've smothered the enchiladas enough, I save some of the sauce off for dipping.  Also, if the sauce gets too thick, even if you have the enchiladas already in it, you can add a wee bit of water and sort of stir it with a fork.
This is enough for 8 enchiladas, plus enough for dipping with chips

Friday, April 14, 2017

May/June '17 Essential Herbal (Issue #93)

 Another herbalicious issue hit the mail, and they're available for order (subscription or single issue).  It is as verdant and full of promise as the meadows outside the windows, and everyone will find a favorite article.  Even the printer told me that he intended to try making some seed paper. He's not a particularly herbal guy, but print folk do tend to geek out on paper...
Anyhow, we've already been traveling around and doing a couple shows.  Spring is in full swing.  We really hope you enjoy this issue!

 Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
   Some rare travels.
About the Cover - Barbara Steele
   Currently teaching    
Seed Paper, Janet Gutierrez  
   Take papermaking to the next step!
The Little Onion that Could, Rita Richardson
   Shallots are so versatile.  Recipes for vinegar or oil.    
Growing with Kathy, Propagation Part II, Kathy Musser
    Propagation using division, layering, and root cuttings.    
Nettles for Nourishment, Kristine Brown
    This brilliant plant can be be an ally in so many ways!    
Branding - Brand Personality Wheel, Angela M. Dellutri
   Have you considered what your brand personality is?    
Make Time for Thyme, Jackie Johnson  
   Though she be but little, she is fierce! Thyme is small but mighty.
5 Innovative Ways to Use Herbs Around the House, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh    
   Ideas, recipes, and inspiration to put those herbs to good use.
Natural Perfumes, Crystal Baldwin
    Have you been wanting to try making your own perfume?  This will help.    
Ginger Citrus Soap, Marci Tsohonis
   I can't wait to make this one.  Spicy AND citrus!  What more could you want?  
 Mistake Becomes Best Seller, Sandy Michelsen
   Every good herbalist eventually "stumbles" on a favorite mistake.    
Use Your Spice Cabinet as Your Medicine Cabinet, Susanna Reppert-Brill
   These everyday spices will come in handy, if you just know when to use them.    
List Article - Wild Foods
   All those wild edible plants outside! Try some of these recipes offered by the Yahoo list and the facebook page readers.
   Pottage, Miranda Hoodenpyl    
     A simple country supper.

See what I mean? 
GREAT issue!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ode to Calendula

excerpt from May/June '13 article TEH
Marci Tsohonis

Midsummer is only a few sunrises away.   After a terminally gray winter and an unpredictable spring, I am as eager as a honey bee to begin harvesting herbs and flowers.  In just a few weeks my favorite herb flower, Calendula, will be hard to keep up with.   I celebrate using the last of my stash of dried Calendula to make Calendula Castile soap. I make this soap in honor of the summer solstice every year. Castile soap has a reputation for being “difficult” but I have never had a failed batch.  It is a mild soap, gentle enough for use on toddlers.  The Calendula petals add a beautiful, random play of color to cold process soap.  Even the heat of the gel process will not fade their color.   

 Calendula is considered a solar plant because the petals open to face the sun when the sun is out, and close up slightly towards evening or on cloudy days.  Full-on, all day sun is just what Calendula needs to thrive.  I am up with the birds every day during the growing season, dead heading our Calendula plants.  If you are growing Calendula for the first time this year, know that every one of the prolific open blooms must be picked at least every other day, or they will quickly go to seed.  However, you’ll find that Calendula is well worth the trouble.

Calendula has been loved by herbalists through the centuries as a remedy for wounds and skin conditions.  It has anti-inflammatory properties and resolves bruising beneath the skin.  Aerial parts of the plant, tinctured, are excellent first aid for wounds, preventing infection and hastening healing.  The dried petals, prepared with boiling water as a tea (and cooled), are a first rate wound wash, and soothing to scalds. 
Creams made with Calendula oil soften the skin, soothing eczema and helping to keep the skin nourished and supple.  Calendula makes a beautiful, soothing salve for chapped hands, nicks or scrapes.

When I harvest Calendula flower heads, I leave a half inch stem attached, making it easier to press the whole flower face down on a screen for drying.  As I flatten it, I gently break off the remaining stem.  If the weather is warm, the flowers should be almost weightless, dry and crispy in less than a week.  Each petal will shrink to half its width.  You’ll be able to tell when they are ready.  Once they are dry, hold the flower head and gently pull outward at the edges of the petals to remove them from the head. 
Calendula flowers dry beautifully on a rack or screen in a warm, covered, shady area when given plenty of air circulation.  I press them onto a screen in our garden shed, and leave the windows ajar to promote air flow.  A garage would work, or even a covered patio that is out of the wind.  I sometimes notice bulk Calendula flowers for sale in natural food stores, stuffed in jars every which way, in a brownish tangle.  They lack memory of the life force when handled that way.  When carefully dried, they are a joyous addition to a summer Potpourri.

NOTE!  If you see something resembling worm larvae in either the finished oil or soap, it is most likely just a Calendula seed!  Simply lift it out with tweezers or a spoon. It is easy to inadvertently pull a seed off the head when you are removing the petals. I found several the first time I made the infused oil.  The seeds are a somewhat curly, crescent moon shape.

This is my favorite method.  Fill any size jar half full of dried Calendula petals.  Pour Olive oil over the petals, filling jar to within 2 inches of the top of the jar.  A little headspace is needed as the petals will expand once they become saturated with the oil.  (an overflow is quite messy) Stir the oil and petals a few times.  Cover the top of the jar with a double layer square of cheesecloth and apply the screw band (or a rubber band) over that.  Place in a sunny, south facing windowsill for at least 6 weeks.  Stir contents daily.

Place dried Calendula petals and olive oil in a crock pot.  I suggest you use a Rheostat/Light dimmer to regulate the heat setting on your crock pot.  Alternately, take the temperature of the oil frequently, turning the crock pot on or off, to ensure the oil temperature is maintained between 100 and 110 degrees for several hours.  The crock pot method works well, though the oil will not be quite as resinous as it would be using the solar method with a longer infusion period.

I don’t use fresh infused Calendula oil in soap recipes, generally, though there is no reason you couldn’t. It is more work to make the oil, and the yield is not as good.  But this is a special oil.   Alcohol frees and dissolves the resin in Calendula, adding medicinal properties to the oil that you would not be able to access with water or plain oil alone. I’m including the recipe, while I’m up, because it makes a highly resinous, healing oil, courtesy of the late Michael Moore.  He stated that most of the Alcohol evaporates during the cook.   Some expert herbalists consider the scent from the trace of Alcohol remaining in the oil to be unpleasant.  Others swear by this method.  You’ll need to make that call for yourself.

Want to try it yourself?  Fill a food processor with cut Calendula heads.  Little bits of stem are fine to add as well.  Pour 1/8 to 1/4 cup of 100 proof Grain Alcohol over them.  Process briefly, long enough to chop the Calendula and distribute the Alcohol.  Allow to sit several hours.  Transfer ingredients to a blender.  Cover with Olive Oil.  Blend on “Chop” until Calendula is finely diced.  Scrape contents into a crock pot.  Maintain temperature of oil & herb mixture at a range of 100-110 for 8-12 hours. Strain thoroughly through Cheesecloth or old t-shirt, squeezing every last drop of this incredible oil.

TO INTENSIFY OIL COLOR: Annatto Seed (Achiote Seed) is a natural colorant that can give your soap a gorgeous yellow-orange color, just like cheese or butter. For a light to medium yellow, heat Annatto Seed and Olive Oil 1:4 in the crock pot or on low heat on the stove burner.   Upping the ratio of seed to oil will deepen the color.   What appears to be a yellow colored oil may turn to more of an orange color once the soap has been processed in the mold, especially if you allow it to gel.  For some reason, Annatto oil turns darker in soap that has gelled than in soap that hasn’t.  If you don’t allow your soap to gel, keep the Annatto seed to oil ratio on the light side.  Too much Annatto will bleed out into the lather as the soap is used.  

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Cheese "Cookies" with Herbs

While we're busily working away on the May/June issue, here's a little taste of the current issue...

Cheese Cookies with Herbs

Rita Richardson

Need an easy, go to idea for drinks or cocktails that is tasty, simple to make, freezes well?
Why not try herbal cheese cookies. 
On the spur of the moment a friend asked me to bring a "nibble" for drinks before dinner, nothing too heavy. I trolled  the Internet for a minute or two and decided on making these ultra simple cheese cookies but I also planned to "herb them up" a bit for added flavor. 
Cheese Cookies with Herbs

1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup flour
1 cup shredded cheese
1 dried herb like thyme, rosemary
Press a leaf of parsley, snip of chives,a frond of fresh dill into cookie dough ball
Mix the butter, flour, cheese and thyme, if using.
Form into small balls and place on a cookie sheet.
Flatten slightly with a fork.

 Add the fresh herb if you are using them now.
Chill these for one hour then bake in preheated 400 oven 15-20 minutes.
Cool or serve warm or freeze and warm as needed.

Other herb suggestions-
Mix 1 t of dried thyme or dill into the dough
Roll balls in powdered sage or minced herbes de Provence
Dust dough balls with cayenne or smoked paprika
Roll balls in grated Parmesan cheese
Make a batch of these and store in the freezer, reheat in 400 oven five to seven minutes.
Nice to have on hand and a clever take on cheese and crackers.

Editor's Note:
I made these exactly as listed and they're great.  We're big soup eaters around here, and breaking one or two of these over the top of the bowl is wonderful!  Same goes with a good salad, and for a smaller family, making these and freezing them means that there's always some great cheesy garnish around.
I also *had* to play with the recipe, because I'm wired that way.  Adding one egg and a little more flour (1/4 c) turned these into something like a super cheesy oyster cracker.  I love them both!

( With Spring right around the corner, these might be interesting with additions like minced weeds - garlic mustard, dandelion petals, nettles, or anything interesting that catches your imagination! )


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