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Monday, January 31, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest #3 - Tinctures, Glycerites, Extracts and Infused Oils

This is the 3rd week of our Herbal Medicine Chest. Check out the other posts in this series by clicking on the Herbal Medicine Chest page tab or the button to the left. Join us every Monday for the next several weeks to explore herbal preparations and put together your own Herbal Medicine Chest.
See the linky at the end for herbal recipes from others.  Don't forget to check the comments section of each week's post to read the remedies shared by savvy folks who aren't blogging.

Here's yet another group of herbal preparations that are the same and yet different.  The goal is to extract the properties of the herbs in question, but the means used to do that depends on the end application.  What I mean by that is, who's going to use it and how?

The equipment needed for these preparations includes large glass jars with lids, cloth for straining, a fruit press or other means to press the plant material after steeping, various menstruums as described below, dark glass jars for storage and maybe a funnel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rib Sticking Cultured Milk Breakfasts

Smoothies are all the rage now and with good reason.  Instead of drinking empty calories and highly processed milk products, that are basically dead food, leaving you hungry and lethargic, smoothies can offer digestive enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that fill you with whole food, rib sticking satisfaction and energy.
Here's a favorite breakfast smoothie:

1 cup homemade cultured yogurt (from raw milk) or organic store variety like Stoneyfield.
1 cup frozen berries
1/2 cup raw milk
1 TBSP organic black strap molasses
2 TBSP organic coconut oil (melted)
1/2 cup homemade milk kefir
1 banana
1 TBSP rice milk powder
1 TBSP organic barley malt/ honey or 1/2 tsp stevia powder
1 TBSP powdered greens, 1/4 cup frozen or fresh spinach
1 tsp lecithin
1 tsp flax seeds

If you dare, add a raw free range egg.

Mix well in blender starting with fruit (whole greens if you're using them) and yogurt, then add other ingredients.

Or, here's a breakfast that will stick to your ribs all morning.

1/2 cup sprouted grain cereal (Ezekiel)
1/2 cup homemade yogurt from raw milk (more to taste)
1 TBSP roasted organic peanuts
1 TBSP organic, unsweetened coconut
2 TBSP dried fruits like raisins, cranberries and currents

Add a glass of greens and a cup of fair trade coffee with 2 TBSP coconut oil for a great start to your day.

These recipes were posted on

Full Plate Thursday
Friday Potluck
The Pennywise Platter Thursday
Simple Lives Thursday,
Hearth and Soul Hop-Volume 33!
Fermentation Friday
Tuseday Twister.
Kefir on FoodistaKefir

Monday, January 24, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest #2 - Teas, Infusions and Decoctions

This is the 2nd week of our Herbal Medicine Chest.  Check out the other posts in this series by clicking on the Herbal Medicine Chest page tab.  Join us every Monday for the next several weeks to explore herbal preparations and put together your own Herbal Medicine Chest.

Here's another group of herbal remedies that are alike, yet different.  All are made using plant parts and water.  So far, so good, right?

Let's talk about equipment...I like to use my french press to make herbal or loose leaf tea but I've also used a tea ball or mesh strainer.  It's best not to use an uncoated metal pot or pan to steep any of the above preparations because the metal can alter the results or create a metallic taste.  And we'll just stay away from plastic altogether.  You'll need a kettle or pot to boil water, a teapot or other glass container with a close but not tight fitting lid. Or cover a glass canning jar with a small bowl.  The reason for this is to allow the steam evaporation to condense and return to the container rather than be lost in the air but not build up pressure that might break the jar if it's sealed tight.
Click on the Mountain Rose Banner below to view the tea equipment they offer.

The usual dosage for infusions and decoctions is 1/2 cup 3x / day.  It's best to sip rather than chug to allow your digestive tract to absorb the benefits.  Especially in cases of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. For weak individuals, elderly, low body weight or children, reduce dosage.  We'll be making enough for one day.  Store in the refrigerator and re-warm gently or drink cold.  Make a fresh batch each day.
Both infusions and decoctions can be used internally, depending on the herb, either as herbal "tea" or added to other remedies and both can be used in many ways externally. We'll cover these in the weeks to come.
As with all herbal remedies, be sure it's safe to use the herbs in question during pregnancy.  "When in doubt, don't."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest Blog Hop

Hey, everyone!  Join us every Monday for the next several weeks to participate in the Herbal Medicine Chest Blog Hop!  This week we're talking about Herbal Salves, Ointments and Balms ( Just posted this one today.)  Jump over there to read about herbal remedies and share some of your favorites!  I'll post a new topic each Monday so come back to help us celebrate making Herbal Remedies at home.

Herbal Medicine Chest #1 - Herbal Salves, Ointments and Balms

Please join me for the first week of the Herbal Medicine Chest where we'll celebrate the healing properties of herbs.  Each Monday for the next several weeks, I'll be talking about different methods used to prepare herbs for medicinal use.
Click the button to the left to see all the articles in the series.
Please see the important note in my side bar.

Salves, Ointments and Balms...What's the difference?  Among the herbal community, it seems that some view these terms as interchangeable while others distinguish between them.  The big difference seems to be the consistency and aromatic qualities. Here's my view:

Balm- a balm is a mixture of herbal infused oils, some form of wax and essential oils.  To explain the texture best, think of a preparation that is stiff enough to be used in a twist up dispenser like a lip balm tube or twist up deodorant stick. The ratio of wax to oils would be highest in a balm, usually 1oz. wax to 1 cup oil.  Balms tend to be more aromatic because the higher amount of EOs used for their healing properties releases a cloud of soothing vapors upon application.
In beauty products, lips balms, lotion bars and deodorant sticks are really balms with additional ingredients.  But in this article, we're simply thinking about our herbal medicine chest.

Salve - also a mixture of herbal infused oils and wax but contain little or no EOs.  The consistency is one that could be used in a small container, like a tin, that the salve could be dipped into with a clean finger, a cotton swab or a small cosmetic paddle.  The texture is easy to smooth over the injury without the pressure required to apply a balm.  Also call unguents.

Ointment - again, a mixture of herbal infused oils, wax and possibly EOs, the big difference (if there is one at all) between salves and ointments is the texture.  I think of ointments as a softer, more loose, yet oily preparation that is best stored in a tube or jar with a screw on lid to prevent spills in warm weather.

That being said, they are pretty much interchangeable in their healing nature and preparation with the big difference being their texture based on how they'll be used and ease of application.  All of the above herbal preparations are for external application.  Because our skin absorbs most oils quickly, the oil and it's healing herbal ingredients are drawn into the body where they can begin to work while the wax and some of the oils form a protective layer on the skin's surface. 
These herbal remedies can be prepared using one herbal ingredient that may or may not be enhanced by the addition of the same EO.  Or they can be prepared using a combination of herbs and EOs for a specific or personalized application.
One variation on the above information is that a solid or semi solid (at room temp.) oil or fat can be used without the addition of wax.  One example is lard.  I don't use animal lard because it has a tendency to become rancid much quicker than vegetable based oils.  Vegetable lard is sterile but it is hydrogenated oil so I don't recommend using it either.  However there are other oils such as coconut oil and butters that can be used here.  We'll talk more about them in the body care section because they often bring healing qualities of their own which may or may not be needed in a first aide situation.

Some recipes call for a few drops of tincture of benzoin as a preservative.  However, it can cause or increase irritation on tender skin.
The contents of a vitamin E capsule can be used to help preserve your preparation if desired.

Here's where the alchemy or creativity comes in...based on the ailments or injuries you're interested in treating, you can pick and choose which combination of herbs or their EOs have the healing properties you're looking for and keeping your proportions equal to the recipe, create your own unique herbal blend. Some of my favorite herbs for balms and salves are:

Chickweed - drawing for splinters or stings, infection - burns and scalds - itching - eczema

Plantain - great healer for sores and wounds - stings - burns - acne - hemorrhoids

Comfrey - rapid healer and cell prolificator - use only on clean wounds to avoid trapping infection or dirt. Use for minor fractures that would not be cast (i.e. broken toes or ribs or hairline fractures) - sore or damaged muscles - osteoarthritis - bruises - sprains

Lemon Balm - relieve painful swelling - gouty inflammation - sores - insect bites - insect repellent

St. John's Wort - antiseptic and styptic for cuts, scrapes, ulcers, sores - localized pain like sciatica, cramping, breast engorgement during lactation, sprains, burns, aching joints

Stinging Nettle - insect bites - wounds - arthritic joints - gout - sprains and other localized pain

Rosemary - headaches - painful joints and muscles - rheumatism - cramps - acne

Calendula or pot marigold * - heals wounds - acne - varicose veins - inflammation - dry skin - vaginal yest infection - eczema - sunburn - scalds and burns - sore nipples from breast feeding - diaper rash

Here's a list of some EOs I keep on hand: all should be diluted before use unless noted.

Rosemary** - See above - analgesic, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent - aids memory -clears thinking - sore muscles - cold feet - gout

Lavender**, *** - analgesic, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, decongestant, sedative - headaches - eczema - burns and scalds - muscle pain - insect bites and stings - chest congestion - sunburn - diaper rash - acne - cramps - insomnia - lice and removing nits. We use it neat as a treatment for migraine headaches by rubbing a small amount on the temples. This is a must have for your Herbal Medicine Chest.

Eucalyptus - expectorant, decongestant, insecticide, analgesic, antirheumatic, highly antiseptic - great for chest rub to relieve congestion in respiratory ailments - painful joints - burns - cold sores - arthritic pain - insect repellent - aids concentration

Tea Tree*** - highly antiseptic and antifungal, antibiotic, antiviral, bactericide, expectorant, insecticide - cuts and scrapes - wart removal - cold sores - nit removal - vaginal yeast infection - acne - itching - reduces scarring - athletes foot - dandruff - insect repellent. A must have for your Herbal Medicine Chest.

Fir Needle - analgesic, antiseptic, deodorant, expectorant - chest rub - arthritis and rheumatic aches - sore muscles - acne - chest congestion - pain reliever

Peppermint** -Cooling, analgesic, antispasmodic, anesthetic, decongestant, febrifuge, insecticide, stimulant - clears thinking - discourages fever - travel sickness - digestive, relaxes stomach muscles - pain relieving - discourages nausea - travel sickness - headache and migraine - toothache - muscle and joint pain - insect bites and other skin irritations including itching - repels vermin

Pink Grapefruit - antiseptic, disinfectant, stimulant, antidepressant - can reduce cellulite - acne - migraine - PMS- deodorant

*(not to be confused with French marigold used in herbicides and pesticides)
**CAUTION: avoid high doses during pregnancy
***Can be used neat or straight. 

See a more complete list of Essential Oils on Herbal Medicine Chest - Essential Oils (Still under construction)

Don't let this list overwhelm you.  You can start as small as you like.  Just a few EOs can get you rolling with very effective remedies right from your own kitchen!

Basic Preparation of Salves, Ointments and Balms

1 Cup oil (Olive, Sesame or Almond are good choices)
1 Cup of chopped fresh herbs or 1/2 cup crushed or powdered dried herbs (either a "simple" ~ singular herb or a blend) and/or 1 tsp.of EO (see below).
Gently warm oil and herbs in a container for 2-3 hours. (Either in a warm oven that has been turned off, in a pot on the stove over very low heat, in a slow cooker set on low or in a jar placed in the sun.)
Strain to remove plant parts or "marc" from the oil infusion and discard.  (The worm bin!)

If you're adding Essential Oils to your product, add them to the warmed oil just before adding the wax to avoid losing much of their value through evaporation.  Then quickly move onto the next step to reduce the temp.

Another method would be to create several "simple" or single herb infused oils that can be combined at a later time to suit your needs.  Of course if you're using EOs there's no need to make ahead.

Add to warm oil blend:
approx.1 oz. Beeswax for balms
            3/4 oz for salves
            1/2 oz for ointments
Adjust the amount to suit your application.  When you need it, you're not going to care what it's called, only if it works!
Stir in beeswax until melted.
Pour into small containers.  Allow to cool, cap, label carefully with ingredients and instructions for use and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight or intense heat (like your glove box!)

Use externally as needed for minor skin irritations, insect bites, cuts (once scab has formed), abrasions (not for open or weeping wounds)*, sore muscles, chest congestion, sore throat, even helping broken bones to mend (after they've been set by a doctor, of course.)  Again, these remedies are meant for minor injuries and ailments; not to replace proper professional medical attention when necessary.  We use them successfully in our home based on research, historical empirical evidence and our own experiences.  Based on lore and history, many of these plants have been used for healing since the beginning of time.

*while the healing properties of your salve may be just what a cut or scrape needs, the waxy/oily film that the salve creates also encourages infection because open wounds need protection but they also need oxygen!  The salve makes an anaerobic seal on the wound, possibly sealing in bacteria and preventing the body from creating it's own cover...a scab.  Try using a wash or tincture on the wound until it is dry.  Then your salve will encourage healing and help keep the scab soft to prevent scarring. 

If you like what you've read here, please visit the other articles in the series by clicking on the Herbal Medicine Chest button below.


This post is linked to
Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth
Simply Homemaking
Simple Lives Thursday
Homestead Revival
Wildcrafting Wednesday
Show Me What Ya Got #58

Natural Living Mamma
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest - Wildcrafting

As I've mentioned in the Where Do I Begin? segment of the Herbal Medicine Chest Series, you can begin by purchasing ready-made herbal preparations or dried herbs and in some cases it's much easier to do so.  But if you're like me, you like to get a little more down and dirty when you can.  Close to nature, if you will, by starting from scratch.  If you are gathering plant materials in the wild (wildcrafting) please make sure of these important points before you begin.

1. Find a good field guide for medicinal and/or edible plants in your area with good pictures and information.  Research before going out.  Find an experienced herbalist or naturalist to take you out on an "Herbal tour" of your yard or areas where you may be gathering medicinal plants.  Knowing or being able to look up edible plants may be helpful in survival or "living off the land" situations.

2. If you're gathering on public or private property other than you own, be sure to get permission first.

3. Know what your harvesting!  Buy a good field guide. (See #1)  Learn to identify both poisonous and safe plants.  Sometimes, as with pharmaceuticals, this can be a grey area because while small doses of a certain drug or plant may be helpful, larger doses can be harmful.  Parts of some plants are poisonous while others may be very useful...take rhubarb for example.  We love to eat the fleshy stems but eating the leaves is harmful.  Elderberries are another.  The leaves and pithy stems contains an alkaloid and glycoside that can change into cyanide.  Folks have died from using elder spouts for maple sugaring or pea shooters but the flowers and berries offer immense immune boosting and antiviral properties as well as many other health benefits.

4. Know how the land you're gathering from has been cared for.  Has this yard been sprayed with chemicals of any kind?  Is it next to a road where the plants are exposed to road chemicals and fumes or covered with dust?  Has this field been sprayed with pesticides?

5. Know your plants!  Some plants don't have any look alikes but a few of the most dangerous plants out there are very similar to favorite medicinal and/or edible plants.  A good example of this is wild carrots or Queen Ann's Lace and its very dangerous, fatal cousin, Poison Hemlock.  Just ask Socrates!  Invest in a good field guide for your area.  Did I already say that?

6. Is the plant you're wildcrafting protected or near extinction?  If it is, consider growing your own from seed.  Be selective.  Don't harvest the entire patch of one herb leaving none to reseed for the next year.  Be responsible.  Don't pull out the entire plant if you only use the leaves or flowers.  In most cases, trimming off up to 2/3 of the top growth will encourage more growth and will delay flowering if you're only after the leaves.

Things you'll need before you start:

a good field guide for your area (see above)
a low basket with a big handle for gathering; or a lovely trug.
a sharp pocket knife or pair of pruning shears
brown paper bags
rubber bands and cordage
a dehydrator - not a necessity but nice to have

 Knowing when to harvest depends on what part of the plant you want to use.  The best time to harvest roots is in the fall after the plant has sent it's energy and sap into the roots for the winter.  Most aerial parts are best harvested before flowering at midday, shortly after the dew has dried but before the full heat of the day.  Flowers, of course when they're in season at the same time of day as other aerial parts.  There are variations that will be noted in most guides.

If the idea of wildcrafting sounds intimidating to you, let's start right in your own back yard. I'll make the assumption that if you're interested in making your own herbal remedies, you're not treating your yard with harmful herbicides or pesticides. Healing plants can be found easily by looking a little harder at the "weeds" in your lawn. Let's look at some of the most common;

Notes: some of the terms used here and in reliable herbal manuals to describe the uses of herbs and herbal remedies may not be familiar to you. Please refer to the Herbal Medicine Chest - Terms to Know page. (Sorry - Still under construction at this time)
Also, some of the info. here is shared from Complete Medicinal Herbal (Natural care) by Penelope Ody which is a valuable resource for the home herbalist offering advice on preparation, storage and dosage of your medicinal herbal creations.

Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale - unfairly despised by many, all parts of this plant offer valuable properties so if you're digging them out anyway, you might as well learn how to use them.
Here in the West, we tend to use the individual parts separately but in Chinese medicine, it's used as a whole plant (pu gong ying) which is use as a liver stimulant and diuretic as well as removing toxins from the blood, making it a great treatment for drawing infection from boils and abscesses.
The leaves are reported to be diuretic, liver and digestive tonic containing high levels of potassium, and other minerals as well as vitamins A, B ,C, and D.  The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season.  They can be used fresh in salads in early spring, before the sap turns bitter white or juiced for a tonic drink. There are numerous recipes that use spring dandelions including my Dandelion wine, which uses only the yellow flower heads, and dandelion fritters...wilted greens with bacon dressing.  An infusion of the freshly dried leaves is also tonic and helpful in eliminating toxic conditions by clearing excess uric acid (which causes gouty inflammation) from the body.
The roots are tinctured fresh for toxic conditions, promoting liver stimulation and elimination of constipation which is helpful in many illnesses.  Bear in mind that while the plant is widely available, to provide for winter use, other methods of extracting the healing properties can be useful.  The roots can be used in a decoction as well.  Roasted dandelion root makes a tasty cleansing hot drink that could be used as a coffee replacement.

Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara - the Latin name means "cough dispeller"  Harvest the flowers, which bloom in early spring before the leaves appear.  The antispasmodic, expectorant properties attributed to this common, roadside weed  are great for calming coughs and reducing phlegm.  Alone or combined with horehound, cough drops made from coltsfoot are a great herbal remedy.  Methods of preparing the flowers include decoctions, tinctures and syrups.
The leaves are a good source of zinc.  Apply fresh leaves to sores and skin injuries as a poultice. They can also be made into a decoction and tincture for coughs.

Caution: this herb contains alkaloids that have been reported to cause liver damage in rats.  These alkaloids are destroyed by the heat used to make a decoction.

Plantain - Plantago spp. - not to be confused with the tropical fruit, plaintain is a widespread plant that grows all over the world.  It's often called "ribwort" because all the veins run parallel from stem to leaf tip.  There are several varieties with Plantago major which has rather broad oval shaped leaves and P. lanceolata whose leaves are long and narrow, being the most common. Both grow in rosettes which produce a long flower shaft with tiny flowers covering the tip like a cattail.  An infusion of P. psyllium and P. ovata seeds make a mucilaginous bulking laxative that is soothing to irritated bowels and constipation.  The leaves, which can be harvested year round, offer healing properties. Applied externally, they are healing to sores and wounds.  It's an instant first aide that can be applied right in the field!  Simply chew up the leaf and apply is as poultice to just about any skin irritation or inflammation including insect bites. It helps stop bleeding, stimulates healing, it's antimicrobial and the lanceleaf variety is also anti-inflammatory.  It's cooling and drawing for infection.  Make the leaves into juice for healing inflamed membranes as in lung infections and diarrhea; a tincture for heavy mucous in allergies or as an astringent; a poultice (as mentioned above) for wounds and bee stings; an ointment for wounds, burns and hemorrhoids; a wash for inflamed sores and wounds; a gargle for sore throats and mouth and gum inflammation; and a syrup made with the juice for coughs associated with throat irritation.

Chickweed - Stellaria spp. - one of the most common weeds growing all over the world.  Traditionally harvested for food, the greens are a wonderful addition to salads and the roots make a good tonic which was used, in hard times, to feed the poor.  The leaves are very healing and drawing making it a perfect candidate for first aide creams or salves.  Even into modern times, it is a known healer for eczema.  The low growing leafy tops can be made into a cleansing decoction which can reduce digestive irritation; a tincture for rheumatism; a poultice from the plant or compress from the decoction or tincture for boils, abscesses and joint pain; a cream to reduce itching, sooth burns or draw splinters; an infused oil to be used like a lotion for rashes.   The roots can be decocted to reduce fever.

Red Clover - Trifolium pratense - the familiar pinkish purple flower, a favorite of rabbits, contains a sweet necter that is fun to suck out when the blooms are fresh.  Gerard called it meadow trefoil and the medieval Christians associated it with the Trinity.  The flowers can be used fresh for insect bites and stings; as a tincture taken internally for psoriasis or eczema; as a compress for painful joints and gout; as an ointment for swollen lymph glands; as an infused (be sure to strain very well before use) eye flush for pink eye (conjunctivitis); as a douche for itching and as a syrup for dry coughs.

Yarrow -  Achillea millefolium - lore tells that the Latin name comes from the Greek hero Achilles because yarrow has been used to treat wounds even from ancient times.  Also known as the nosebleed plant because of its styptic qualities.  Yarrow is a very useful back yard herb. The flowers can be used as an infusion to reduce phlegm and applied externally to cleanse eczema and inhaled through stream for hayfever.  The essential oil can be added to a salve or ointment or carrier oil to relieve chest congestion.  The fresh leaves can be inserted lightly into the nostril to stop a nosebleed or as a poultice on cuts and scrapes.  The leaves and stems can be infused to reduce fever and made into a compress to sooth varicose veins.

Caution: yarrow may cause allergic reaction in rare cases.  Long term use may reduce photo sensitivity.
This herb is a uterine stimulant and large doses should be avoided in pregnancy.

Traditional wisdom surrounding the use of plants as medicine goes back to the beginning of time and the spread of plants from one continent to the other has blessed us with lots of wild herbs, some of which are even available in urban communities, parks and city lots.  See Steve Brill's Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places. Steve is known for his identification and occasional "sampling" tours through Central Park. Who knew we had such a wealth of choices right outside our door?   Here's a list of several other plants that can be wildcrafted from yards, wayside fields and woodlands:

Shepherd's Purse
Stinging Nettle
Wild Strawberries
Hops - if you're fortunate
St. John's Wort
Ginseng - If you're very fortunate
Sweet Violet

So, after you've gathered your plants, now what?  If you're not going to use them fresh, you need to dry them for storage.  The best way to do this is to bundle the plants loosely in groups of 3-6 stems and secure with a rubber band.  Hang the bundles upside down in a warm, dark place with low humidity.  If you are using the seeds, you can tied a brown paper bag over the bundle to catch the seeds as they fall.  Or spread the plants in a single layer with lots of breathing room on an old window screen. Place the screen over the backs of chairs to provide ad equate ventilation. Depending on the climate of the room, this can take a few days or a week.  It's important to dry them relatively quickly to preserve the properties but not at such high temps that they are destroyed.  You can use a dehydrator if you have one but be sure to use low heat.

When the herbs are crackly, like corn chips, transfer them to tight sealing glass jars.  If you're concerned about remaining moisture, put a teaspoon of rice in a little muslin bag and put it in your container.  Store the jars in a cool, dark place until you're ready for the next step.  Heat, light and moisture will all dimish the potency of the dried material.

If you're going to use the herbs fresh, have all your ingreidents on hand so you can prepare those remedies as soon after harvest as possible because the longer they are harvested without being preserved in some way, they less potent them become.

It's really satisfying to go wildcrafting.  Much like picking wild berries, which have medicinal properties of their own.  It gives me a sense of wellbeing just knowing that I can use what others call weeds to make such useful, healing remedies.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest - Where Do I Begin?

Organic herbs, spices, teas and oils.The most important piece of advice I can give you about beginning to prepare your own herbal remedies is to start with quality ingredients.  The banners shown here represent two of my favorite sources for quality herbs, EOs and ready made preparations, among many other things.  Mountain Rose Herbs also offers some great How-to videos on their web site.

But before you begin, don't just take my word for anything you read here, do your own research.  One of my favorite resources is The Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ode. Some of the info I'll share here comes from her wisdom and experience as well as that of other herbalists.  Click on the link at the left to review and/or purchase her book. 
Vintage Remedies offers some valuable classes on prevention, whole foods and herbal remedies that result in certification at various levels.   You can find some free, e-courses and The Wildcraft Game at LearningHerbs and The Herb Mentor.

There's lots of information on the web but you need to verify your sources.  While I can't endorse some of the practices and beliefs of some of the authors, many do offer valuable herbal wisdom.  Be discerning.  What I'm going to share with you are things we use in our home and have researched and experimented with over the years.  Based on feedback and personal experience we have received some great empirical evidence of their efficacy.  All that to say that the field tests have been successful!

Here's some of the things you'll need to gather before you begin:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Crispy Flatbread

Have you ever noticed how satisfying something crispy can be when you are attacked by the munchies? This recipe for crispy flat bread certainly hits the spot with crunchiness and lots of flavor! A cross between a cracker and a chip, they've become a favorite with family and friends for meal time or a healthy snack.

2-1/2 Cup flour (I use unrefined, unbleached, organic white flour w/ bran.)
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP sesame seeds
3/4 cup warm water
course sea salt

Preheat baking stone in 450F oven.
Mix dry ingredients.
Add water.
Dough will be firm and crumbly at first but will begin to smooth with kneading and rest periods.
Knead on unfloured surface for 2-3 minutes. Cover and let rest for 12-15 minutes.
Knead again for 1-2 minutes. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
Divide into 24 equal pieces and form into balls.
Cut parchment paper to cover baking stone.
Roll as thin as possible.
Place on parchment paper and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
I like to use 2 pieces of parchment so I can be preparing one while the other is baking.
Move parchment with rolled breads to baking stone and bake for 4-5 minutes. The edges should start to brown and curl with golden brown beginning to show on top.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Little Bit's Holiday Chocolate Chip Cookies

In an effort to cut down on refined sugar I've been using either rapadura or evap cane juice + 1/2 tsp/cup of molasses to replace brown sugar in our recipes.  My daughter wanted to make chocolate chip cookies to share with some friends so she started mixing before she realized we didn't have brown sugar.  I simply told her to add a little molasses to the evap cane she did...1/8th cup!  I thought that might be a little on the strong side but much to my surprise, the chocolate chips and molasses taste great together!  Everyone loved them!  So she called them, Holiday Chocolate Chip Cookies!  Like Christmas in a cookie!

2-1/4 Cup + 2 TBSP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1/8 cup molasses
1-3/8 cup evap cane juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat sugar, molasses, butter and vanilla until creamy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.
In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients.
Gradually add flour mixture to sugar/butter mixture.
Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheet.
Bake @ 375 for approx. 10 min.
Allow to cool on sheet before moving to wire rack.

This post is linked to:
Jenny Matlock


Monday, January 10, 2011

Herbal Remedies Past and Present - Influences on Western Medicine

Alternative medicine is a fascinating field of study that includes many ancient practices from cultures all over the globe.  Practices that have stood the test of time and are still being used today in many countries.  Folks still draw from the ancient works of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides and Avicenna to learn about herbal remedies.  The Bible talks of herbs and plants used for healing as well as proper diets for good health.  Every culture, through written or oral traditions, have used healing plants for their medicinal properties to create or restore wellness.  Pliny, Nicolas Culpepper, John Gerard and many others spanning history from the beginning  leave behind herbal knowledge that is valued today.
Most herbal books found in the States focus on one particular cultural tradition or another.  Rich European traditions for herbal remedies, which were influenced by a combination of Arabic, Celtic, Greek and Roman cultures, are the basis for Western Medicine.  However, Eastern medicine offers it's own set of practices that prove to be quite valuable such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and healing wisdom from India called Ayurveda.  While some of these traditions are coupled with many rituals and various religions, it is feasible to examine them from a neutral standpoint, gleaning the valuable medical properties and uses of herbs as well as diet and movement to learn a comprehensive overview of alternate practices.
Important to all is to be "in touch" with your body so you can understand what it's telling you and being responsible for our own health.  When you're thirsty, you drink; when you're hungry, you eat;  because our bodies were designed to stay healthy and will try to show us what they need to do that through various means, we need to learn to interpret these symptoms.  These signs can lead us toward an alteration in our diet, supplements or other natural and alternative means that can begin the healing process or indicate that we need to seek out medical diagnosis or advice before proceeding.
Determining the diagnosis based on symptomology or more advanced means is the first step.  Seek out the guidance of an experienced herbalist or health care practitioner who is willing to cooperate with you in selecting a treatment plan.  Looking at the body as a whole instead of merely treating symptoms while ignoring the root cause of the illness is also important.
This is not an invitation to snake oil cures or quackery.  Today's herbalist needs to draw from medical and scientific research as well as cultural traditions to gain a respectable reputation in the Western Medical community as viable alternative healers.  The public demand for more "natural" cures and the huge increase in health care costs may cause the mainstream health care providers and health insurance policy makers to take another look at herbal remedies that have been scientifically proven and even some that are merely backed by centuries of hard to ignore empirical evidence.  This demand is based on the risk involved with many orthodox pharmaceuticals and treatments, environmental concerns and a growing reawakening of the knowledge that prevention and maintaining good health practices are essential.
An ancient Chinese text says, "the good doctor attends to keeping people well, while the inferior only treats those that are sick."
In the first or second century A.D., one of the oldest Chinese herbals, listed 365 healing remedies, most of them plants but some from animal extract or minerals. Dioscorides, a first century A.D. Greek physician, listed 400 plants. In the Chinese Materia Media today, there are 5,800, while India lists 2,500. In the tropical forests of Africa there are over 800 plants gathered regularly for medicinal use. Germany, the first western country with official herbal monographs, list nearly 300 herbs used by the medical profession.  Western herbalists find that they can deal with most ailments with a working knowledge of about 150 or so plants.

The key is restoring and maintaining balance...physical, spiritual and our bodies so they can heal and live in harmony as they were designed to do.  Health is a manifestation of your world, both inside and out.  What you eat or drink determines if your body has what it needs to function properly and fuel all systems or if your diet is lacking in nutrients or overloaded with poor choices which can cause deficiencies.   It's also important to remember that the largest organ we have is our skin so every element or chemical we come in contact with both intentionally and environmentally, has the potential to be absorbed into our bodies effecting our health.  What you put into your mind creates a worldview that influences nearly every choice you make...good or bad.  And what you put into your soul creates the kind of person you will become based on spiritual nourishment or lack of it. 
I'll be writing more on these topics and others in the days and weeks to come so be sure to check back here for more on Herbal Remedies Past and Present. Become a follower to receive instant notification of new posts.

Join Jenny for lots more letter "I" topics @
Jenny Matlock

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Knitting Projects January 2011

The flu hit our house about 3AM New Year's Day and has had both my girls in it's grasp for the past few days.  Thankfully, I seemed to have escaped with a few aches and cramps, the others were far worse.  While I was spending time with the sick, and after the initial yuckiness had passed, I needed a project.

I love wool!  There's nothing like it to keep you warm on the most blustery of days with less than dry snowball fights!  We have a variety of wool sweaters, wool pants, hats, mittens, gloves, scaves and blankets to keep us snug in the coldest winter weather.
Months ago, I purchased several skeins of a very soft wool in shades of deep blue/purple and olive green.  It is hand spun and very lovely.  A pattern with little attention to detail was just the ticket so I started a pair of fingerless gloves. 
The process is simple...using #6 DP needles, cast on 36 stitches dividing evenly over 3 needles.  Join the ends and continue to knit in a k2, p2 ribbed pattern for 6".  Then cast off 6 stitches and continue the round.  When you reach the cast off point, cast on 6 stitches again and continue as before for about 1 1/2 inches. Cast off.

And when those were finished, I needed something else to do so I decided to turn this simple pattern into mittens.  They look a little skinny before you put them on but they fit nicely.


My oldest daughter, who can't sit still for long without a project in hand, decided to make a few gifts for friends while she was recouperating.  The first was a hat.
 And the next was a pair of mittens along the same lines as the ones I made.  She, like me, can't be bothered with patterns when there's creating to be done.  Problem there is that neither of us have directions for the second mitten!

Those projects are next on the list so if we write the directions down, I'll add them here.

If you're local and you'd like to learn how to make these or just knitting in general, I'm open to hosting a knitting class in my home.  Drop me a line if you're interested and we'll discuss a small fee for materials and the lesson as well as a good time to get together.  

This post is linked to Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fermented Sauerkraut

This recipe is from the fermented vegetable and fruit section of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  Just click on the link to purchase your copy.

Makes 1 quart

1 medium cabbage cored and shredded
1 Tbsp Caraway Seeds
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
4 Tbsp Whey
Mix together in a large bowl.
Pound with a wooden meat hammer or pounder for 10 minutes to release juices
Place in a wide mouth quart jar and press down firmly until the juices come to the top of the cabbage.  the top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before moving to cold storage.  The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately but improves with age.

Check out the other recipes at Real Food Wednesday.

Kitchen Goals for January 2011

First let me write about meeting goals last month.  One goal for December was to make a batch of yogurt each time I bought raw milk which ends up being weekly.  I'd send a quart or two to college with my daughter so she could have her sprouted grain cereal and dried fruit with yogurt for breakfast.  Each time we or some of our friends visited her college town or she came home, I replenished her frig with yogurt and raw milk.   My husband likes to take yogurt in his lunch but he likes his with fruit. So each time I made yogurt, I also made 12 little 4 oz jelly jars of Fruit on the Bottom yogurt for his lunch.  Only about half made it to his lunch box because it's so good!
Last month also included some dabbling with sourdough and I'm still struggling to make it happen.  However, I did make a couple batches of flatbread for Christmas.

Plastic containers are so handy to have on hand but with all the talk about the xenohormones and chemicals that leach into our food, (read all about it here) I've tried to eliminate many of them from regular use by using lots of different sizes of canning jars and buying a couple sets of glass containers which I love!

It's easy to talk about things that should be so in my kitchen but when things get busy, it's also easy to try making choices at the store that may reflect at least some of my goals.  But, when things get hectic, sometimes I panic to get food on the table and all my goals go right out the window for a meal or two.  And, everyone at my house is not on board with my healthy diet plans so if he goes to the store, there's no telling what he'll bring home! 
So, when I think about goals for my kitchen in January, there are a few things I'd like to tackle.

  1. Purging my kitchen of most or all refined, processed foods.
  2. Prepare for a 3 week eating plan to kick start the new year.
  3. Plan and prepare ahead of time so I don't get caught off guard when I get busy.  One aspect of this goal is to make breakfast bars weekly because they are a healthy snack that is easy to grab when you need something to tide you over until mealtime or as a quick breakfast with yogurt.
  4. Baking bread at least once a week including flatbread and /or crackers.
  5. Make 24 Fruit on the Bottom yogurt instead of 12 each time because we love it, too!
You can read about other whole food advocates' Kitchen Goals for January 2011 at Kelly's blog.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Goals and Health Related Giveaways

As we start the new year with plans for improvement or change I'm sure that everyone has at least one personal goal in mind that relates to their health.  Over at Kelly the Kitchen Cop, they're hosting a giveway that you can enter by sharing a *NON* weight related health goal for 2011.  Click to learn more.

You can also join Kelly for her 2011 Weight loss and Wellness Adventure for tips and discussions to help you meet your weight loss goals.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Projects in review - The Recycled Greenhouse and other garden stuff

Wandering through the colorful seed catalogues that have arrived in recent weeks, I'm already getting the urge to get out into the garden.  Last years tomato blight destroyed all my tomatoes and I didn't even get one!  Not this year!  I'm planning to get an early start so the plants are strong before the blight hits.  But as I thought back over the spring season, I recalled some fond memories of the girls and I working in the garden.  Here's a little recap of those adventures.

Our first project in early Spring was to build a green house.  If you've read much about me in past blogs, you know that I'm somewhat of a packrat, a trait that vexes my husband greatly!  It has, however, come in handy when I get an idea but don't have the means to act on last Spring.  I'm one who likes to use what I have on hand and since funds are usually limited for things like this, I started scouting out what was available.

 We started with a few things to make the frame; first we found long hoops of recycled black well pipe that we fastened together with the recycled metal supports from the shed that collapsed under a heavy snow a few years back. Wow!  I'm glad I didn't throw them away!  The dog kennel/peep pen served as the base for our ribbed roof. We covered this skeleton and framework with a partial roll of construction grade plastic we found in the shed.  Probably not a good choice because it broke down over the winter but it was here so we used it. 

 And here's the greenhouse we made from them;
The wire "ceiling" was added to keep raccoons out when we had growing peeps and also to prevent fledgling hens from flying out of the pen.  We discovered that it made an excellent shelf for holding an old screen door laden with freshly harvested herbs for drying!  The warmth in the green house did the job in just a couple days!

Scenes from the kitchen garden.

I love all the many shades of bee balm!

A collage of gardening memories from the Spring and Summer of 2010.  You can see our flats of plants growing in the greenhouse if you look closely.
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I'm sharing this post with:
Alphabe-Thursday(letter "R")
Penny Worthy Project

Wildcrafting Wednesday

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The Woodwife's Shop

Preparing small batch natural, additive free products for beauty, health and home right here in our kitchen since 1991 from herbs grown organically in our garden, wild crafted in nearby meadows and woodlands or purchased from reputable, like-minded companies. Dried everlasting wreaths, arrangements and potpourri. Herbal salves, tinctures, soaps, teas and more.