Archive for Herbal Blog Party

Spring greens: bamboo shoots.

bambooshoots.JPGThis month’s herbal blog party theme is “Spring Greens,” hosted by Darcey.

This spring I happen to be living next to a massive bamboo windbreak. Now, this is not something I would have planted myself — bamboo is overwhelmingly invasive and pretty much impossible to control — but since it’s established here, we’re doing our best to control it by eating the shoots!

These bamboo shoots are not like the ones you find in cans at the store. First of all, they have a lovely fresh, almost pea-like flavor. They’re also hollow in the center — you slice them into pretty little circles.

To harvest fresh bamboo shoots, just break them off at the ground when they’re about a foot tall. Peel off the tough skin, and slice. Most recipes call for soaking overnight or parboiling to remove bitterness and potential toxins, though our bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is not bitter at all.

We’ve loved ours in miso soup and in stir-fries, and I’ve been pickling them too.

Yesterday I made a half-gallon of spicy Indian-style bamboo pickle. It’s hot and tart and crunchy — wonderful with flatbread or papadums.

Now, I didn’t really measure anything, but this is the basic gist of what I did:

Harvest, slice, and parboil bamboo shoots. Drain.

Saute a bunch of whole or almost-whole (if they’re big) garlic cloves in a good amount of oil. (Mustard oil is traditional, but you could use a neutral liquid oil like sunflower oil or non-roasted sesame oil if you need to.)

Add a whole lot of hot pepper, a bunch of mustard, some black pepper, a bit of asafoetida, plenty of salt, and other spices to taste. (I used some cinnamon, cumin, and fenugreek.)

Add the bamboo shoots, some sliced lemon, and enough lemon juice to make it nice and sour. (The liquid surrounding the bamboo shoots should be thick, but not too stiff. Cook it down or add more oil, lemon juice, or water if you need to. It should be pretty oily.)

Taste. Adjust the spices and the texture. (Keep in mind that the flavors will mellow as the pickle sits.)

Bottle.

Let it sit at least overnight.

Enjoy!

Tips:

The pickle will keep in the fridge for a long time if you make sure there’s always a film of oil covering the top.

If you want to can your pickle, you should probably use a pressure canner — I’m not sure it’s acidic enough for a water bath.

Next: The nature of bamboo, and a very different pickle.

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Twitter twitter, tweet tweet.

So, I’m trying out this twitter thing, aka microblogging.

(Guido,  Kiva and Darcey have been doing it too, which makes it more fun — a little virtual herbalist party.)

I’m posting about the food I’m cooking and whatever herbal mischief I’m up to at the moment.

I’m going to try to put the feed on the blog, too, but that may take me a few days.

In the meantime, enjoy the minutiae!

PS: The May blog party theme is Spring Greens, hosted by Darcey. Posts are due May 15th.

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Kitchen spices: cinnamon.

This month’s herbal blog party theme is “Kitchen Spices.” Our host is Dancing in a Field of Tansy.

These days, cinnamon is my favorite kitchen spice medicine.

Here are a few cinnamons from my spice shelf:

cinnamon

On the left, cassia or Chinese cinnamon. This is the most common cinnamon in the US—the one you can find in the grocery store, .

On the right, the “true” or Ceylon cinnamon, . It has a more subtle aroma than cassia, and it’s not so sharp.

The powder is Vietnamese / Saigon cinnamon, . It’s intensely sweet, very spicy, and much redder than the other two.

(Confused about the botanical names? Been reading old-time herbals? Here’s a clue: C. cassia = C. aromaticum; C. zeylanicum = C. verum.)

All the cinnamons have a lovely balance of warming and stimulating and soothing qualities — they’re wonderful for people with cold constitutions. The classic indication for cinnamon is a tendency to cold hands and feet, a reminder of cinnamon’s powerful stimulating effect on blood circulation.

Cinnamon strengthens the circulatory system and gets blood moving out to the surface of the body. (David Winston uses cinnamon for Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which circulation is severely restricted in the hands.) But cinnamon’s more than a circulatory stimulant. Remember this: cinnamon brings energy where energy has been drained. So while it’s classic for weak circulation with cold hands and feet, it’s also one of the most valuable old-time remedies for passive hemorrhage, including hemorrhage after childbirth.* Juliette de Bairacli Levy recommends a cinnamon-spiced wine to give strength to women in labor. Cinnamon strengthens basic vitality.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the indication for cinnamon is “deficient kidney yang.” Some symptoms: fatigue, aversion to cold, low back pain, cold hands and feet, abdominal pain, diarrhea /constipation, pale urine, white-coated tongue. Guess what? Most of these are indications of “cold” in European and American style herbalism. (I’ve also found that this list can be a pretty clear picture of some people diagnosed with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (IBS). And indeed, cinnamon is a classic remedy for digestive upset.)

Cinnamon is revitalizing for people who are cold and tired, drained of energy (think chronic fatigue). Now, don’t get any funny ideas: cinnamon is no substitute for rest. It is a supreme aid to convalescence, though: it’s capable of energizing tissue and getting tired or weak organs moving again. It’s also perfect for people who tend to “catch” every bug that comes along: increased vitality means increased immunity.

Cinnamon’s revitalizing power comes in handy these days, with so many people run down and drained by modern industrial “food.” Cinnamon helps the body use energy: it’s a specific for insulin resistance / metabolic syndrome. Consistent long-term use of cinnamon brings down blood sugar and triglycerides, those danger-signs of impending diabetes and heart disease.**

So, in case you didn’t get it yet, cinnamon revitalizes what is drained. It brings life to the pale, cold and weak. Not bad for your average kitchen spice, is it?

My favorite cinnamon tea (this week, anyway):

3 parts Cinnamon sticks

1 part Orange peel

1 part valerian, blackhaw or crampbark

1/2 part flaxseeds

Simmer as for flaxseed tea.

This tea is wonderful for increasing circulation, for “irritable bowel” and for menstrual cramps in people who tend to cold. (You can increase the valerian / blackhaw / crampbark for a stronger relaxing effect, but it won’t taste quite as good.)

An herbalist’s cheat-sheet for cinnamon:

Parts used: dried bark or twigs.

Actions: stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic, hemostatic, antiseptic.

Affinities: circulation, digestion, metabolism, uterus.

Taste: sweet, spicy, aromatic.

Vitalist energetics: warming, slightly mucilaginous but also slightly drying. Hildegard said it best in 1150: “Cinnamon is very hot and its power is great. It holds a bit of moisture, but its heat is so strong that it suppresses that dampness” (trans. Throop 1998).

Michael Moore energetics: skin, CNS, upper GI, renal, reproductive stimulant; lower GI, mucosa sedative.

Tongue indications: pale, coated.

Specific indications: insulin resistance, bleeding ulcers (Michael Moore), passive uterine hemorrhage, menstrual cramps associated with heavy flow and a feeling of cold.

Homeopathic mental indications: “Sleepy. No desire for anything” (Boericke).

*King: “For post-partum and other uterine hemorrhages, it is one of the most prompt and efficient remedies in the Materia Medica.” Ellingwood: “Cinnamon . . . is a hemostatic of much power and is positively reliable in all passive hemorrhages.”

**In one study, researchers gave people with type II diabetes 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day. “After 40 days, all three levels of cinnamon reduced the mean fasting serum glucose (18–29%), triglyceride (23–30%), LDL cholesterol (7–27%), and total cholesterol (12–26%) levels; no significant changes were noted in the placebo groups. Changes in HDL cholesterol were not significant” (Diabetes Care 2003). And here’s a study for the extra-geeky.

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Simmering: winter fun with stockpot and teapot.

This month’s herbal blog party is “Winter Recipes,” hosted by Dreamseeds.

Most of my winter herbal recipes involve long-simmering pots on the back of my woodstove. Tasty broths and teas that warm a person from the inside out, and make the house smell good too.

Winter is a time for concentrated, warm foods. Put away the leafy summer herbs, and get out the roots, seeds and spices. Valerian, licorice, sarsaparilla. Flaxseeds, cardamom, nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves.

The best way to stay healthy in the winter is not to fight the fact that it’s winter. In winter, things move more slowly. We need to sleep more. We need richer, fattier foods. In winter, as mammals, we need to stay warm. (It’s quite common for people to forget to dress warmly enough for the season. It’s not unreasonable to wear a scarf indoors if you live in a drafty house.)

Good long-simmered bone broth is the best winter food I know. It’s rich in protein (gelatin) and minerals, and it warms you “to the bone.” Add some vegetables and call it soup. Use it to cook rice or beans. Or just drink it straight with a pinch of salt.

Here’s how to keep a stockpot:

1. Always save bones. (Yes, even bones that people have gnawed on. All that simmering will take care of any contamination.) Keep them in a jar or a bag in your freezer. You can separate them by animal if you like, or lump them all together for “mixed stock.”

2. When you’ve collected a good pile of bones, put them in a pot and cover them with cold water. (You can add a dash of vinegar if you like, to help draw minerals from the bones.) Put the pot over low heat. Let it come to a gentle simmer. If you’re using a gas or electric stove, turn the heat down as far as it will go. If you’ve got the stock on a woodstove, move it to a cool corner or put it up on a trivet. (I’m told you can make stock in a crockpot, too. But I’ve never used a crockpot, so I don’t know how that works.)

3. Leave the stock on gentle, low heat for 12-48 hours. (Yes, I know that’s a long time. It really does make the best stock, though.) Check on the stock every once in a while and add water if it needs it. If you’re using raw bones, there will likely be quite a bit of foamy scum that comes to the surface. Just skim it off — a little tea strainer works well for this. Try not to let the stock boil. Low heat is best for extracting gelatin. (Don’t kick yourself if it accidentally boils, though. Just turn it down. Your stock may be a little cloudy, but it will taste fine.)

4. When you can’t stand it any longer, strain out the bones. If there is a lot of fat on top, skim it off and save it for cooking (a little jar of fat in the fridge is a lovely thing). Now you have stock to play with! What will you make?

You can add warming winter spices to your stock if you like. But my favorite way to take warming spices is in tea. In winter, my “teas” are usually decoctions, simmered on the stove until they perfume the house.

Here are some of my favorite winter teas.

For people who get dry and cold in the winter: flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum), cassia / cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).

For people who get a lot of sore throats and swollen lymph nodes in the winter: echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea), red root (Ceanothus americanus), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).

For people who feel drained in the winter: wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) (use only organic ginseng, “woods-grown” if possible).

For people who get cold hands and feet in the winter: valerian (Valeriana officinalis), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) (harvest wild ginger only if it’s locally abundant; “regular” ginger can be used instead).

Oh, yes, and for everyone, because it’s so tasty: pink ginger tea. (This is, of course, one of the best things to drink when you’re down with the flu.)

Happy simmering!

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Local herbalism: using the plants in the dooryard.

When I told the gentleman who installed our satellite internet that I’m an herbalist, he started singing the praises of Tahitian Noni Juice. Right. I told him I was sure the Noni Juice was very nice, but there were ten different just-as-useful herbs growing right by his feet in my backyard, and he could have them all for free.

See, exotic herbs with hyped-up marketing campaigns just don’t excite me. Who knows exactly what’s in those bottles anyway? And why should I give my money to big, sketchy companies when my backyard supplies just about all the herbs I could ever need?

Today I decided to go outside and make a list of the useful herbs that are growing wild right now within 20 feet of my house. The list was even longer than I thought: more than thirty very useful plants.

Here they are, with a use or two for each to give you an idea of what they’re good for. Keep in mind that many blogposts (books, even!) could be written on every one of these plants, so there is necessarily a lot left out. I just wrote the first thing that came to my mind about each one.

All Heal (Prunella vulgaris): incredible wound-healer and alterative.
Aster (Symphyotrichum spp.): valuable diaphoretic, nervine.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra): alterative, thyroid support, skin fungus.
Blackberry (Rubus spp.): an astringent when you need it.
Burdock (Arctium lappa): liver and kidney soother, resolves scaly skin.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria): sleep for babies, stomach-calmer.
Celandine (Chelidonium majus): liver and lymphatic stimulant.
Cheeses (Malva rotundifolia): useful mucilage-laden mallow, soothes everything.
Chickweed (Stellaria media): gentle, soothing alterative and lymphatic.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus): classic bitter digestive.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): elimination balancer, alterative, minerals.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): good for sneezing allergies, digestive and urinary soother.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea): alterative, depurative.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea): another wonderful, soothing mallow.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata): antispasmodic of the first order.
Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria): possible lymphatic.
Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum): respiratory stimulant.
Plantains (Plantago major & P. lanceolata): stings, wound healing (inside and out).
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana): strong lymphatic.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota): kidney stones, thyroid, and birth control too!
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): gentle lymphatic, alterative.
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis): traditionally used for mania!
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): traditional cancer herb, good vitamin c in salad.
Spiny Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper): cooling digestive tonic.
Strawberry (Fragaria spp.): gentle astringent, baby diarrhea.
Thistles (Cirsium spp.): liver and digestive tonic.
Violet (Viola sororia): so cooling, soothing, and comforting.
White Deadnettle (Lamium album): astringent, good for heavy menstrual bleeding.
White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia): bitter nervine.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella): tasty source of vitamin c, heals old wounds.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): sharp cuts, internal healing, alterative.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus): liver stimulant, laxative.

Well, not a bad materia medica, is it? Most of these plants grow in cities, too. Medicine all around, if you look for it. (Big herb companies don’t need your money anyway.)

A side note: I’m a space cadet. After I reminded everyone else about this blog party, I forgot about it myself until I saw Kiva’s post. Silly, I know.

What should our next blog party be? I promise to participate on time!

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Blog Party update.

Kiva Rose is hosting this month’s party over at The Medicine Woman’s Roots.

The theme is “Local Herbalism.”

Tell us about how you use the plants that grow close to where you live. (Any usual plants? Special local traditions? Favorite recipes?) Post your thoughts on your blog at the end of October, and send a link to Kiva (redartemis AT gmail.com). She’ll post the results on November 1st.

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Blog Party: Preserving the harvest.

It might not seem like it around here, but winter is coming.

Herb bloggers all around the northern hemisphere are putting up tinctures, drying herbs, gathering fruit. My hoarding instincts go into overdrive this time of year, and it seems I’m not the only one.

Kiva Rose of The Medicine Woman’s Roots is busy as usual. Her harvest post includes lovely recipes with names like “Mother Love” and “Summer Berry Bliss.” (And she has a new wordpress format—check it out!)

Speaking of concoctions with pretty names, Guido at A Radicle wrote about Sparkly Comfrey Powder—a way to dry comfrey for the winter with its soothing, gelatinous properties intact.

Ananda at Plant Journeys has been decanting her tinctures: wild oregano, yarrow, mugwort, red clover, and wormwood.

Darcey at Gaia’s Gifts gave us a rundown of her pickling experiments and her plans for fall harvest.

Angie over at The Herbalist’s Path gave us quite a rundown too, with garden harvest details as well as her experiments with nasturtium tincture.

And we have a new blog party contributor: Michelle at Witches’ Dozen wrote about making rose-infused honey and included a lovely picture of one of her roses. Welcome, Michelle!

Oh, and I wrote about elderberry wine. (The best thing ever . . . in the winter, by the fire, with a book. Yes.)

Next month’s party: What’s the plant that got you into all this?

Hosted by Darcey at Gaia’s Gifts.

Darcey wants to know, what was your first “plant ally”? Tell us all about it.

As usual, post your entry at the end of the month and email Darcey with a link.

As for me, I’m looking forward to visiting the party on someone else’s blog!

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Preserving the harvest: elderberry wine.

elderberrywine.JPGWine-making is one of my favorite ways to preserve the harvest. And elderberry wine is a classic. It’s so tasty—a bit like sherry or port.

I’ll tell you how I make it. But if you’ve never made wine before, I’d suggest a bit of reading before you start your own. My favorite book on fermentation of all sorts (including pickles, beer, and even miso) is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. He tells you what you need to know without getting too technical.

First collect elderberries. Lots of elderberries. Several big grocery bags full, if you want to make a five-gallon batch. (I remember climbing around in the creek with my friends when I was little, picking elderberries for our parents’ winemaking.)

Clean and de-stem your elderberries. De-stemming can be tedious. Some people use a fork, but I don’t mind getting my fingers purple. If the mess bothers you, you can freeze the clusters of berries on cookie sheets. Once they’re frozen, they come off the stems more easily.

Measure your berries. How many gallons do you have? Write this down somewhere.

Now, put your berries in a large crock or bucket—something big enough to hold them, with several inches left over at the top for foam. Pour enough boiling water over the berries to barely cover them. Cover the crock with a towel and leave it to steep for a day or so.

After the berries have had time to steep, add a packet of wine yeast. (Some people use baking yeast, but I’d suggest seeking out the wine yeast at a brew shop or online. Baking yeast can give off flavors.) Stir well.

Measure out 3 pounds of sugar for every gallon of elderberries you had. (Go find your notes.) Put the sugar in a pot with about a cup of water per pound of sugar. Heat until the sugar is entirely melted into a syrup. Cool the syrup and add it to the berries. (Sandorkraut suggests leaving the berries to ferment on their own for a few days before adding the sugar.)

Ferment the wine for four or five days, or until major bubbling has subsided. Stir it every day, several times a day—as often as you remember.

When it’s ready, strain the wine into a carboy or another container that will take an airlock. Make sure to squeeze all the juice out of the berries. Put an airlock on the carboy, and put the whole thing somewhere dark and not too cold. Leave it for a couple of months.

When you’re ready, siphon it into a clean carboy, leaving the “lees” (yeast residue) behind. You can taste it at this point, but it’ll likely be a little harsh. It needs a good six months or a year to mature. Leave it in a cool closet somewhere. (Don’t forget to check the airlock every once in a while to see if the water needs to be replenished.)

Bottle your wine in time for the following winter. In our house, we often drink a little glass after dinner as a winter tonic (and because it tastes really good). You can also use it just as you’d use any other elderberry preparation. It’s one of my favorites for staying healthy during flu season, and to support recovery from colds and flu.

I love to make herbal preparations that are as delicious as they are “good for you.” So elderberry wine is high on my list. It really is worth the wait.

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Blog Party: Berries!

It’s high summer, and berries all over the northern hemisphere are getting ripe. Herb bloggers have come in from their harvesting (just for a minute) to write about their favorite berries.

Angie at The Herbalist’s Path started us off with a post on Salal Berries, native to her home in the Pacific Northwest. I’m intrigued by her description of the taste—like almonds!

I wrote about Pokeberry, one of the classic Appalachian herbs.

Darcey at Gaia’s Gifts wrote about Chokecherry, and gave a lovely reminder about putting up cherries in brandy (yum).

Ananda at Plant Journeys gave us a post on Wineberries, including some luscious pictures.

And Kiva of A Medicine Woman’s Roots posted on her “berry of choice of the moment,” Wild Canyon Grape. And she promised us some recipes soon!

Next month’s party: Preserving the harvest.

What are your favorite ways to preserve the profusion of summer herbs for the winter months? Do you have interesting tips for drying, tincturing, oil-infusing, honey-extracting, or otherwise putting up herbs? Or tell us about your must-have herbs for the winter. What are you especially excited about preserving this season?

Put your post on your blog during the last week of August, and email me a link.

On September 1st, I’ll post the party here!

(As always, if you’re interested in hosting a blog party, or you have ideas for good themes, let me know!)

UPDATE (22 August): Guido at A Radicle made a post on berries yesterday.

Another UPDATE (30 August): The unstoppable Henriette of Henriette’s Herbal Blog has posted an entry on how she uses berries, with a focus on Vacciniums and urinary tract infections.

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