Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inspired Medicine Making

All of 10 minutes ago my friend Barbara inspired me to use cranberry in medicine making. She had made a cranberry and astragalus elixir that sounded divine. Quickly searching my brain for what I had in the house I came up with cranberry and elderberry elixir. Simply said, I can never have enough elderberry concoctions in my house! I love it for all the immune offenses that seem to always be around me. I like elderberry with something tart to balance out it's sweetness. Cranberry is a perfect fit and I happened to have a bunch fresh on hand.

Today's immune tonic, which will be awesome as a base for festive drinks that aren't entirely bad for you, is amazingly simple to make.

To make a pint will need:

The peel of a mandarin orange, or any small orange you have on hand
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, broken up
an overflowing 1/2 cup of dried elderberries
fresh cranberries to almost fill the jar, maybe a little less than 3/4 cup (in retrospect I would have cut up the cranberries a bit)
1 cup of vodka or brandy
about 1/2 cup of honey

Put everything but the honey in the jar and give it a stir with a chopstick. Add the honey and stir again. All you need now is a pretty label and about a months worth of patience before you strain and enjoy.

Whole Food Holiday Ponderings

When else can you buy meat for less than a dollar per pound (stock up)? When else is the focus on lovingly prepared whole foods? Where do all the colors of the rainbow come together on one table and people eat  with joy?

The fall and winter holidays are some of my favorite times of year. I love getting together with friends and family eating good food made with love. In many ways I think that the holiday feasts are some of the healthiest meals people eat all year. Unfortunately they are also eaten with a once a year kind of wild abandon that ignores senses of fullness and satiety. Thanksgiving in particular is a day of marathon eating.

By putting these foods up on a holiday pedestal we forget how nourishing they really are. And before we get into how much butter and saturated fat there is in everything, I would have you know that fats and cholesterol really are not the demons western medicine has made them out to be. They are the nourishing foods that our forefathers ate for millenniums, and the modern fat phobia has only fueled modern diabesity with its forced reliance on carbohydrates and sugars taking the place of animal fats, organ meats, and traditional eating. Much of what goes on the holiday table could and should find it's place regularly on the dining table. Gathering with family and friends should occur more than a few times a year.

On my own family table we will be having a roast turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, brussels sprouts, peas, homemade cranberry sauce, vegetarian carnitas, wild mushroom stuffing, button rolls (I will eat many), pies, coffee, wine and love. I love the holidays and food so I am looking forward to the nonstop festivities between now and Jan 2nd. I am looking forward to cooking for friends and warming my house with an oven that is never turned off.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Fall is a time of change and this fall this is abundantly apparent in my life. Particularly moving from a small apartment into a house, with a yard and a lot of work to do. While change is definitely making its appearance in my life what always amazes me about fall is how much stays the same. Maybe it's because I'm an autumn baby, but I love the fall and feel more myself at this time of year, both good and bad. My true nature comes out more, my love of warm spicy things, fires, camping, engaging the elements, cooking. At the same time I tend to get emotional as all the leaves fall off the trees. I like to cozy up to a fire with a fortifying drink. My favorites are mulled wine and hot Nog a la McTrouble.

Hot eggnog is one of my favorites. I have it for breakfast on cold mornings, or on cool evenings fortified with a bit of brandy or rum. I like to make it with black pepper, cardamon, vanilla, and wild juniper berries, sweetened with honeysuckle infused honey.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beach Plums

If you spend any time on the Eastern Shore anytime soon, keep an eye out for Prunus maritima: Beach plum. This plum is a native to the Atlantic coast, growing in the dunes from Maine to Maryland. Because of the state of our dunes, unfortunately this plant is endangered; not because she isn't resilient and prolific, but because beachfront property is so valuable and susceptible to development.

The little plums are tiny, only about the size of a cherry. They are sweet, sour, and astringent. Some might even call them bitter. The season of ripeness is August through early October. The shrubs are biennial bearing so you'll have to find a few spots to harvest. Usually the fruits are made into jam. In fact, I first learned about these fruits at the farmers market from Jerry of Ferry Landing Farm & Apiary. His wife makes delectable jams: strawberry rhubarb, elderberry, and beach plum. When I was at the beach observing the plants I realized I was looking at a Rosaceae family shrub and it had fruits on it. One taste and I knew instantly what it was. When I started jumping up and down from excitement I got some strange looks and my husband pretended he wasn't with me (note to self: foraging on the boardwalk during an art festival will draw attention). While he was wandering off into the crowd I was able to share some of my enthusiasm with one nice gentleman  who seemed genuinely interested to learn a little about them.

Harvesting these plums isn't the easiest feat. The plums themselves are somewhat concealed by the leaves so knowing a few characteristics of rose family shrubs is useful. Lazy so wikipedia. Blogger Toby Cecchini describes the process thusly:

"This harvest found me pulling wooden spines out of my shin; getting covered in bloody scratches as I pushed into dense, barbed shrubbery; stretched out in comically abusive yoga postures with my hands snaking through prickly labyrinths toward the chalky bloom of a perfect dark plum just out of reach. None of it will sway me."

A quick internet search on my way home gave me the idea to make an infused liqueur. In all honesty, I read this article and decided to do the same. According to some the flavor of beach plum is similar to that of sloe berries (I don't know because I have never seen a sloe berry) which are the sour and astringent fruit of the blackthorn tree, a spiny shrub that grows untamed in the hedgerows of England. These fruits are made into sloe gin. Now I am not a huge fan of gin, or rather I should say of college party cheap gin and tonics, but I wanted to expand away from just doing brandy or vodka infused liqueurs.

The problem with finding a new wild food is sometimes I get really excited about it and other life stuff gets in the way. I got home from the beach at around 7 pm on a Sunday so the liquor stores were closed and I was leaving for a trip/conference the next day at 5 am. Fortunately freezing the fruits was recommended in the aforementioned article so I threw my bag of plums into the freezer and packed for Medicine of the People.

When I got back I picked up some gin, threw the plums into a jar and covered with a good amount of Tanqueray (which the shopkeep informed me is one of the only gins made with fresh herbs). You can add a bit of sugar at this time, or wait until you're mixing up a cocktail. Infuse for at least a month. The gin will take on a beautiful rose color and will taste both fruity and almondy. I am planning one more trip out to DE for plums to make infused gifts for this winter. I'm thinking I'll go to Beach Plum Island (yes it's a real place).


2 ounces beach plum infused gin
1 ounce fresh lemon or lime juice
sugar or simple syrup to taste
Prosecco or sparkling water to fill
Lemon or lime wedge, for garnish.

In a shaker filled with ice, combine first 3 ingredients and shake well. Strain into a pretty glass and top with sparkling wine or water.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Medicine of the People

Photos by Rosalee de la ForĂȘt
Last week I returned from a most magical weekend in the Coconino Forest of Arizona. The reason? The Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, now renamed Medicine of the People: an Herbal Resurgence. Amazing people come together from all over the country to learn together, dance, sing and most importantly to connect with others in the growing herbal community. This is a gathering that is about reviving and enlivening the spirit of Western Herbalism, connecting with your bio-region and the plants. I keep describing the event as a folk western hippie revival!

I came home feeling exhausted and full. I took many wonderful classes and got to know some of the teachers better. In many ways my appetite for knowledge is never sated, but this year it wasn't the classes that held my attention, it was the people. I spent time going on walks, talking about interesting client cases, herbs, the work other people are doing in the world. I learned the voices to accompany the words I read on blogs. Building friendships in person is one of the things I love most about this gathering and one of the things that keeps me coming back.

We also held up an ATM because we were in the old west.
I also got to thinking about my bio-region and all the herbs that I can harvest and share this fall. I need good reminders to go out and gather medicines and people to share them with. I forget sometimes how many useful plants I have available to me in Maryland. It's funny how I have to go far away to really see what I have here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lobelia Tincture

I know it's been a while since I last posted. It's summer and I get distracted.

I have been keeping myself busy preparing medicines and exploring my local environs. Most recently I have been harvesting lobelia, a somewhat controversial and immensely useful herb for asthma and bronchitis. It is also a profound emetic if you are not careful. Go here if you want to learn about the controversy around it because it is too big a discussion for me to undertake today.

Lobelia inflata is a small little woodland plant. Absolutely beautiful if you ask me. I mostly use it in asthma. I have also used it for its muscle relaxant properties and for quitting smoking (in combo with a few other herbs depending on the person).

File:Lobelia inflata 003.JPG

To make a fresh plant tincture of this or any other herb, measure by weight your fresh herb. Say you have 1 ounce, that is equal to 30 grams. Chop it up and put it in an appropriately sized glass jar. To make a standard 1:2  (weight to volume) tincture you will need twice as much alcohol as herb. The metric system is our friend here. 1 gram is equal to 1 mL. So for 30 grams of herb you will need 60 mLs of pure alcohol for your menstrum.* Choose a jar that is filled by your herb and menstrum. You don't want lots of airspace because the herb will float to the top and out of the alcohol. Lovingly shake the jar daily, or anytime you think of it. It will be ready in a month.

The 1:2 ratio works for most fresh plants (for dried herbs 1:5 is standard using a more dilute menstrum like vodka or brandy). Lobelia is a very strong herb and is used in drop doses (1-10 drops) so some people prefer a 1:4.

Kiva Rose has a fabulous write up on how to make tinctures. This is a great time to prepare herbal preparations for the fall and winter seasons. Choose herbs you like and will use this coming fall and winter. I particularly love having elderberry and ginger on hand.

I originally intended to write about the bounty of the summer season and clearly I have gotten off tract. I think tomorrow I shall have to write on elderberry and getting ready for fall.

*For your menstrum you want the strongest alcohol you can get. Pure grain alcohol (Everclear) is what I use. It is 95% alcohol, while vodka on the other hand is only 40%. The reason you want strong alcohol is because fresh plants are mostly water by weight and will dilute the alcohol which needs to be a certain strength to extract and preserve the herbal constituents.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Self Heal Salve

Prunella vulgaris is one of those pretty little mints that doesn't like to call attention to herself. Her beauty is mostly appreciated by small children and bees who are close to the ground and don't mind squinting at her delicate tiny flowers. They lose interest though, because she doesn't smell particularly nice and she is far too common in meadows and on the edges of fields. She patiently watches over the children as they play games and scrape their knees. She is a fairy flower, one with motherly love, and completely lacking mischief.

She goes by many names: self heal, all heal, prunella, heart of the Earth, woundwort, blue curls...

Culpepper describes her aptly: "Self-Heal whereby when you are hurt, you may heal yourself,' tells us that: "it is an especial herb for inward or outward wounds. Take it inwardly in syrups for inward wounds, outwardly in unguents and plasters for outward."

Because of this herb's abundance and wound healing abilities (she also has natural antibiotic properties) I decided to finally make a salve with Prunella. I went to a local park and found her growing in a lush patch with plantain between some secretive woods and a ball field. Plantain (Plantago sp.) is another fantastic herb for wounds. I gathered a few handfuls of each and let them wilt down for a few hours in a basket.

To make the salve I chopped the leaves and flowers and placed them in a metal bowl I use to make salves. You can also use a simple glass jar (pint sized). I covered the herbs with a mixture of oils: grapeseed which is a nice light oil and what I had on hand, and coconut oil which is a heavier and more stable oil. If my brain had been working after having spent all day out in 100 degree humid heat I would have just used the coconut oil, or maybe olive oil if I had it on hand. The reason being, olive oil has natural antimicrobial properties and doesn't spoil as readily as more delicate oils like grapeseed. Grapeseed is great for skin preparations because it is easily absorbed, but it can go off or become rancid in a short amount of time if care isn't taken. Coconut oil is far more stable due to the presence of saturated fats. There is also something about it being a tropical oil which makes it less prone to rancidity in hot humid heat. Other solid fats work well. I hear lard is fantastic. That's enough about oils...

I placed the little metal bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler method) and let it warm to about 100-110 degrees. Then I turned the stove off. Then back on, and off, and so on over the course of the evening until the oil had taken on the lovely green hue of the prunella and plantain. The goal here is to warm but not fry the herbs which will take on a noticeable scorched smell if it gets too hot. This method also allows some of the moisture in the plants escape. Trapped moisture will make the oil go off, or worse get all fuzzy with mold. I have lost many infused oils this way. In drier climates folks can do solar infusions or other slower methods. Once the oil is done infusing, strain and set aside covered loosely with a napkin or piece of cloth, again to let moisture escape. After a few days any moisture will settle to the bottom of the jar. Pour off the oil and leave the last little bit at the bottom of the jar.

To make a salve simply melt a bit of beeswax into some of the herbal oil. Making salves is all about simple proportions - the ratio of oil to wax. 4 parts oil to 1 part wax yields a firm salve. You can play with it until you get a consistency you like. I added some lavender essential oil (just a few drops) for its preservation, antiseptic, and aromatherapy properties. Pour into little pots, jars or twist tubes. Use on bites, scratches, and the little wounds that seem to happen in the summer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Too much mint! And a recipe for what to do with it

So the mint in my garden is finally overgrown. What else can be expected of a mint. Beyond making tea with it I usually don't get too creative. Now I have more mint than I know what to do with.

Mentha piperita (peppermint) is a fabulous, tasty herbal tonic. It is refreshing on a hot day, and very supportive of the digestive system. Peppermint is even said to have nervine qualities, able to ease anxiety and tension. I can see truth in this. I usually feel pretty relaxed after drinking a cup of hot peppermint tea, though I have always attributed the feeling to the act of drinking tea. I'll try to pay more attention to this.

For dinner tonight I decided to incorporate mint into the dish. I had to be creative because my husband and I have fairly different diets. His entire diet revolves around meat, vegetables, bacon, coconut and dark chocolate. Mine revolves around vegetables, eggs, yogurt, beans, tofu and milk chocolate.

I really didn't want to make drastically different dishes tonight. When I cook the meat my chef side is very curious how it came out. My husband isn't the best at relaying this info. Oh well. Using what I had on hand I came up with this.

Vaguely Greek Inspired Lamb Meatballs or Tofuballs with Mint and Preserved Lemon

I started by making the sauce that would hold my tofuballs together and would go on top of all the balls.
1 cup full fat plain yogurt
2 tbsp olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped preserved lemon
1/4 cup mint leaves
(would be good with some cucumber added in but I didn't have any)

Mince everything finely and mix together or just throw it all in a food processor. Done.

For the lamb meatballs I took 1lb of ground lamb and mixed in my seasonings: black pepper (a bunch of turns on the grinder), fresh thyme (2 tsp), dried rosemary (1/2 tsp), smoked paprika (1 tsp), oregano (1 tsp), Celtic sea salt (pinch), and about a tsp of preserved lemon (this stuff is salty so go easy on the salt in other places). (Please note that these are just guesstimates as I use my hands for cooking). I also added a splash of apple cider vinegar and a little olive oil. The olive oil was probably unnecessary due to how much fat is in the lamb.

For the Tofuballs I stared with a block of extra firm tofu that I squeezed the water out of and crumbled up. Add 1/4 cup each instant oats and almond flour. I used the same seasonings, a bit extra olive oil, and 2 tbsps of the yogurt sauce to hold everything together so I could form balls.

Sear the balls in a bit of olive oil. I transferred the tofuballs to an oven proof dish (because I wanted to use my cast iron to make some greens to go with it). Top the balls with little dollops of yogurt sauce before putting into a 350 degree oven. The lamb just went directly into the oven in its cast iron, though you can just cook it on the stove top instead.

Bake for like 20 minutes or until the house smells good and the meatballs are done to your liking. Tofu really doesn't care when it's done, unless it's burnt. Don't burn the tofu.

Serve with Quinoa, cooked dark leafy greens, and some balls on top. Add more yogurt sauce. Yum.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ephemeral Spring

I have been enjoying the bounty of spring. The early warmth and lush greenery was welcome after such a piddling, grey winter. I've been spending as much time as possible outside. I finally ID'd wild lettuce and found it in my neighborhood only to have it fade before I could do anything with it.

The ephemeral quality of spring especially has me on my toes this year. I feel like my senses are finally open to the plants after many years of learning them on paper. I am discovering things that have been under my nose the whole time. This is a nice break from feeling like nothing grows near me. Quite the contrary. I'm finding I have everything I need right here within reach. This has to do more with my personal development and an attitude change, rather than any change in the diversity of the plants around me. Now that I know I will be in the DC area for a significant amount of time, I've started to view it as my home and have begun to see it with a little more possibility. A visit from one of my herbal friends also helped. Getting lost in the woods with an herbalist is the best kind of lost to be.

Right now I'm getting lost in the flowers, wild rose, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and even elderflower (after a long search she caught me by surprise today). I have both strawberries and rhubarb at home and gathered an armful of roses and eldeflower today. I may soon be making something delicious. Next post...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Vine Medicine: Lonicera

Some vines are particularly weedy and don't need any help spreading. Many make wonderful medicine and I'll try to highlight them in this blog as they come into season. Lonicera spp. seem to make both friends and enemies wherever they go with their fabulous scent and their weedy natures. It is hard not to be intoxicated by the sweet dripping scent of honeysuckles in bloom. At the end of this post there is a recipe for infused honey...

I first met honeysuckle in my garden as a child. You see, my mother was a friend of honeysuckle. A good friend. She was born and raised in Maryland where the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) thrived. In her many treks across the country to California (where I was raised) she brought plants with her and established them in garden plots wherever she lived and traveled. I expect there are plants in Texas, Colorado, Hawaii, California, and at whatever rest stop she stopped at on her journeys. I know she planted honeysuckle, periwinkle, and comfrey everywhere she went. She especially loved honeysuckle. We had one well behaved plant in our garden that tried to die all the time in the dry summer heat. I had no idea honeysuckle was such a weedy plant when I was a kid. I held it up high on a pedestal, a exotic, delicate and beautiful plant that needed my help to survive. And then I moved to Maryland...

Because honeysuckles are so prolific, especially Lonicera japonica which is considered a noxious weed in some places, you can feel good about harvesting it for medicine. Japanese honeysuckle aggressively competes with native plants and often smothers anything in its path.

In many ways I think of honeysuckle as heart medicine. This is just the sense of the plant I have always gotten. When I breath in its rich perfume, my heart settles. In writing this post (it's taking me days) I keep getting drawn into the temptation to quote other people about herbal actions, history,use etc... But one of the most wonderful things about herbal medicine is firsthand experience. It's what makes the great herbal teachers great. It bucks science and study. I was just reading an old herbal (not really old, just older than me) that described Scutellaria lateriflora as utterly worthless. My experience is that it kicks a$$ at calming my stressed out, so tense with that sharp burny/numb nerve thing in my neck that I can't turn my head (which always seems to happen while driving at high speeds on the DC Beltway or 95) self. I know it helps me. So for me Japanese honeysuckle is heart medicine in the chill out and open yourself to the possibilities of the world kind of way. And Googling "honeysuckle mythology" totally backs me up on this one.

In Greek mythology Daphnis and Chloe were lovers, but they lived far apart and only could see each other while the honeysuckle bloomed (or so the synopsis says... I haven't gotten my hands on a side by side Greek/English text so I can compare, which I can totally do because I took 2 years in Ancient Greek in college). Daphnis asked the god of love if the plant could bloom longer than a season, so they could be together longer, which is why, according to legend, honeysuckle blooms continually throughout warm weather periods. In some countries, bringing the blooms of honeysuckle into the house means there is going to be a wedding within the year. In Scotland honeysuckle vines were hung on barns to prevent cattle from being bewitched.

In the language of flowers it stands for the bond of love, devoted love and fidelity as the flowers are said to look like two lovers intertwined  The fragrance is supposed to induce dreams of passion.

The fragrant flowers of Japanese honeysuckle are a cooling remedy in TCM and are used to clear heat and relieve toxicity. (I don't know what this means for lovers. It might be a good herb if there is conflict between people). It is traditionally combined with Forsythia for use in flus with fever, headache, cough, thirst, and sore throat in TCM. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

I first learned about honeysuckle for use in colds/flu from Jim Duke over at his Green Farmacy Garden in Columbia, MD. He's an amazing man and has contributed so much to herbal medicine. Follow the blog if you aren't already!

Since learning about honeysuckle I have always wanted to try it as a flu herb... I'm still waiting to get sick a few years later. I'm not complaining, but it would be nice to try these things out sometime. Historically the native honeysuckle flowers were used for asthma and leaves to support the liver and spleen. It also helps with cramping.

Actions: clears heat, alterative, immune stimulant, expectorant, diuretic, antispasmodic, strongly antiviral and antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, uterine stimulant, relaxant nervine, astringent, lymphatic.

Gerard differs a bit from TCM. Instead of cooling he says that honeysuckle is "neither cold nor binding, but hot and attenuating or making thin." He quotes Dioscorides as saying that: "the ripe seed gathered and dried in the shadow and drunk for four days together, doth waste and consume away the hardness of the spleen and removeth wearisomeness, helpeth the shortness and difficulty of breathing, cureth the hicket (hiccough), etc. A syrup made of the flowers is good to be drunk against diseases of the lungs and spleen."

The differences here may have to do with different species used: European, Asian, American...

And now I get to the point of this whole post. Infused Honey!

In my garden the honeysuckle, sage flowers,and heirloom rose all bloom at the same time. We'll see what happens this year. I'm writing before they bloom so you all don't have to wait until next year. I fill a jar with the fresh blossoms and cover with honey. Use proportions as they call you. The sage can be strong so I recommend a bit less of that one. I have a strong affinity for heart medicines. I had a lot of heart pain as a child that could really only be described as angina, so I've always been attracted to the heart soothers.

The taste of this honey is amazing! It is sweet and full of the rich scent of honeysuckle. Rose is a classic pairing. Because of the sage flowers, which are diffusive and aromatic, the honey takes on a whole new dimension. The sage also gives it more antimicrobial throat soothing qualities. The main reason it's in this honey is taste and to include some purple with the pinks and yellows of the other flowers. The reason I added it in the first place was wholly aesthetic. I had purple flowers so I added them. It would have been violets if they were around. Have you ever smelled blooming sage? It is amazing! It's spicy, and vaguely like lavender in the way that arugula is like kale. Same family but with a tender and spicy punch. Without sage the honey might be too floral and sweet for my tastes.This honey is perfect in Nog a la McTrouble along with some black pepper, cardamon, vanilla, and juniper berries.

So.... I've rambled on here enough. I'd like to hear about your experiences with honeysuckles! To share and grow as herbalists, gardeners and friends. If you have questions please ask. My brain is wired like google. I have lots of data, and am working on the experience and wisdom part.

Peace, Blessings, and Blossoms!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Oh no! You can see me....

Today was a very interesting day for me. A coming out of sorts. This blog so far has been a secret little thing I've been compiling until I felt I had enough content, and got enough guts to share it with the world Somehow today my little secret was found out and I was highlighted in an herbal blogroll by an herbalist and blogger I respect highly (see Rosalee de la ForĂȘt's blog Methow Valley Herbs).

On top of that, I was in the Washington Post today where I was interviewed about a new hydroponics store opening in DC that makes no attempts to hide it's intent to help people who wish to grow medical marijuana. I ended up being quoted about my enthusiasm about bat guano (blush). Of course that's what they had to quote... They had a great selection of organic potting mixes and soil amendments though.

All in all, after being in the public eye, at least a little bit, has been empowering! Bat guano and all.

Berry & Rose Elixir

This is a lovely centering elixir designed to lighten and nourish the heart.

In a quart jar combine:

2 parts (ounces) hawthorn berry - to center, nourish and strengthen the heart
1 part rose petals - to calm and soothe
1 part rose hips - to support the tissues
1 part goji berries - to support the adrenals
1 part elder berries - to strengthen and support the immune system
Brandy and honey to cover

I used 2 parts brandy and 1 part honey, and dried herbs. If using fresh roses or berries you will need to use a higher proportion of alcohol to make sure the elixir doesn't go off.

Throw everything into the blender and whir it around until all the berries are broken up. Don't do so far as to make a puree. Macerate for a month, shaking the jar as often as you think to. Strain and bottle. This elixir is thick and jam like and heavily scented with the magic of roses.

Cardamon Scented Lemon Polenta Muffins

Today was a bit overcast and there was a chill in the air. A perfect day for sweet baked goodness! I started out with the intent of making waffles, but my hubbie was doing dishes and there was no counter space for the waffle iron, so I turned on the oven instead.

These muffins were inspired by my friend Rebecca over at Cauldrons & Crockpots who makes a fabulous lemon polenta cake with lavender, who was in turn inspired by Nigella Lawson (credit where credit is due).

Makes 12 muffins
2 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup yellow corn grits
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4-1 cup buttermilk (just guessing how much I used here)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 green cardamon pods: remove the cardamon pod's outer shells then roughly grind with a mortar and pestle.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and buttermilk. In another bowl combine the dry ingredients. Mix add the dry ingredients to the wet and quickly stir together without overmixing. If it seems too dry add a little more buttermilk. Gluten free batters do a little better when on the thinner side. Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine.

Generously butter muffin tins, or line with natural paper liners. Spoon the batter into the tins, filling each one to the top. Sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, until the tops are crisp and golden.

Let cool for a bit and enjoy on their own or slathered with butter or lemon curd. Oh how I wish I had lemon curd to go with these.

Many other herbs/spices would be delicious with these muffins if you want to try something different from cardamon: rosemary, lavender, ginger, etc... Crystallized ginger would be fabulous. Or blueberries!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wild Places - Behind the Trader Joe's

Happy Spring!

Stellaria alsine
Erigeron pulchellus
Sanguinaria canadensis
Asarum canadense
Symplocarpus foetidus
Panax trifolium

Possibly Erythronium americanum

Friday, February 24, 2012

Juniper Smoked Hemlock & Black Pepper Farmers Cheese

This recipe started with a trip up to Rochester NY to visit my friend Mario of Artemis Herbals. He taught me about Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and more importantly he cooked for me using this wonderfully tasty plant. This Hemlock is a type of pine, not the deadly Apiaceae plant (the joys of common names). After getting back from New York I found a Hemlock tree of my very own in my neighborhood.

I started by making the farmers cheese. I had been given a quart of half & half that needed to be used up before it went bad so I decided to try my hand at making cheese. This turned out to be surprisingly easy. I used half & half because it was what I had. Whole milk might be preferable, but again I have no idea as I've never made cheese before.

1 quart half & half
1 pinch salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Hemlock needles & black pepper

Pour the half & half into a pot, and stir in a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a slow boil over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot. When the milk begins to boil (small bubbles will first appear at the edges), turn off the heat. Stir lemon juice into the milk, and the milk will curdle. You may need to wait 5 or 10 minutes.

Grind herbs to a rough powder in a mortar & pestle. I used about a teaspoon of hemlock needles and some black pepper. Add herbs to the curds and gently stir. Line a sieve or colander with a cheesecloth, and pour the milk through the cloth to catch the curds. Gather the cloth around the cheese, and squeeze out as much of the whey as you can. Place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

I made the cheese then thought of the Wild Things Round Up at my friend Butter's blog Hunger and Thirst. I had never smoked anything before. So after a furious google search I decided I could smoke cheese in my apartment without any of the normal accouterments. I ended up using a broiler pan and a cardboard box (not photogenic). I lit a small dry Juniper branch on fire and put it in the bottom of the roaster pan, put the cheese on the broiler tray over the smoldering branch and topped the whole thing with a wine box. Classy I know. When you light juniper on fire it likes to really burn, so be careful not to set your eyebrows on fire. I checked it once and re-lit the twig. After about an hour in the box I took out the cheese which had taken on a wonderful smokey taste and aroma. The taste is like a rich, herbed, tangy, and smokey goat cheese. Yum....


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Herbal Truffles

Because Valentines Day is coming up I thought I would share my recipe for Herbal Aphrodisiac Truffles. I use simple herbs that are wonderfully balancing and supportive to the libido. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) and Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) are delightful adaptogenic herbs that support and balance the stress response and are known aphrodisiacs. These plants work in various ways to improve and harmonize the overall physical and mental well-being.

Maca is a herb native to the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia where it is traditionally used as a aphrodisiac and for enhancing fertility. It grows under harsh conditions where few plants can survive. It is a tenacious and nourishing plant that helps to build energy and stamina.

Ashwagandha is particularly useful in cases of  fatigue and nervous exhaustion, and helps to induce a state of calm and restfulness. It is well known to increases sexual stamina and desire. Ashwagandha is a particularly tonic herb for the whole body. Kiva Rose has a wonderful monograph on this herb.

Aphrodisiac Truffles
2 tbsp Maca root powder
2 tbsp Aswagandha root powder
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 tbsp Almond meal
Enough honey to make a thick paste (sorry I don't have an exact amount, I just pour from the jar and guess)
Cocoa powder to roll the truffles

Mix everything but the cocoa together in a bowl. It should be a thick paste like cookie dough. Roll into small balls (about a teaspoon) then roll in the cocoa powder. That's it! To store them in the refrigerator add a bit more cocoa to keep everything from sticking. They should keep in the fridge for a few days, up to a week. Eat a couple every day to build your energy and desire.

Enjoy! Happy Valentines Day.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Homemade Beauty: Hair Mud

It seems I have a lifelong quest to find natural products to use on my body, ones that don't have any crazy ingredients. I spend a lot of time reading labels and every time I buy a product, invariably I soon read something that makes me question the safety of some ingredient in the product. I have learned that I often have different standards for what I put into my body and what I put on it.

Take glycerin for example: a humectant made from vegetable oil (or animal fat) that finds its way into all kinds of body products. It's vaguely edible and made from plants. There should be no problem right? Well... It is made from plants (soy, corn, cottonseed), plants which are often genetically modified. But you can't just go up and press these seeds and expect oil to come out. You can't make the oils at home. They are highly processed and to make glycerin you take a highly processed product and process it more. I try not to consume such processed things, so why would I put it on my body?

Over the years I have experimented with many different hair care products in my quest for finding a natural shampoo that didn't cause any problems for my skin (many products make me break out or get a rash). Sometimes they work wonderfully, sometimes they don't. But they are never quite the same as conventional hair products. In the past I would sometimes cheat and steal some of my sister's shampoo when I visited her. I always loved how my hair felt just after using something like Herbal Essences (note: not very herbal). Then I would start to break out and my hair needed washing again by the next day because it would get so greasy. I don't know what they add to shampoos to make so you can't go very long without washing your hair. It's a racket I'm sure!

Lately, due to frustration, I just haven't been washing my hair. And you know what, my hair is much healthier and softer now. I'm really starting to like my natural oils. And my skin is clearer too when I don't use shampoos, which is a big plus for me!

One thing that I really like to do is to put a clay mask on my hair. I learned about clays and hair from my friend and coworker Risikat. She is an expert on natural black hair care and teaches classes on the subject. She mentioned how good clay masks are for locks. So even though my hair has a very different texture I figured I would give it a try, and I loved it. I usually add clay to shampoo, or to jojoba oil and leave it on my hair for 10 minutes before rinsing it out. Clay is a wonderful, natural addition to home beauty products. Green clay is very absorbent and helps to draw oils, toxic substances, and impurities from the skin and hair. Because it is drawing it can help to stimulate circulation to the skin.

So now I am trying to make a kind of Hair Mud that I can use more regularly. I mixed up some aloe vera gel, green and red clays, distilled water, and some essential oils into a liquid mud mixture. It's very simple and that is kinda the point.

Hair Mud
1/4 cup aloe vera gel
3 ounces green clay
1 ounce red clay
10 drops of essential oil* (I used lavender and fennel)
enough distilled* water to make a pourable liquid

*too much essential oil can be overpowering in the mud.
*water needs to be distilled or well boiled to avoid introducing bacteria into the mix.

It's not a shampoo, but is balancing for the hair and helps to wash away excess oils without stripping the hair. One thing to note is that if you stop washing your hair with shampoo, oil production slows down significantly. When you constantly wash out the oils your body goes into oil production super-drive. It takes a few days to weeks to balance out, but the results are worth it in my opinion.

You can purchase clays and many other wonderful herbal products at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Wild Foodies

I have several friends, some real, and some bloggers, who are amazing cooks and wild foodies. I love pouring over their blogs and finding recipes. I have a soft spot in my heart for dessert. Because of my studies in health I try to stay away from gluten (the protein found in wheat and several other grains). I do not have Coeliac disease, but a mild gluten sensitivity where my throat starts feeling scratchy and itchy. Fortunately, I don't get any really painful digestive symptoms, worsening of seasonal allergies, or anything more than an annoyance. I know that sensitivites tend to get worse as the immune system gets weakened by the stress of dealing with the offending food. For this reason the amount of baking I do has gone way down. And that's OK, but it makes it very exciting when I see posts for things such as Gluten Free Cream Puffs or Lemon Pudding Cake. I won't lie, Butter and Rebecca might be my favorite wild foodies ever. They are always using fabulous foraged foods from the west.

As much I as I want to wildcraft my dinner, where I live it is not a real possibility, at least not without driving to a more remote location. I live just outside of DC, as in I cross the street and I'm there. I know there are many urban foragers who will argue that there are plenty of finds to be had if you look. I agree. There are plenty of wild edibles. My problem is I know too much. For one, there is a lot of car and general city pollution in DC. Two, the soil generally has a high lead content from all the paint and leaded gas that used to be in style. I don't really want to put that into my body.

So until I have my little cabin in the woods, far away from urbanization, I will let my mouth water as I read these blogs.

Cauldrons & Crockpots
Hunger and Thirst

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I love to make things, especially beautiful things. I am an herbalist and an artist, though my artistry is mostly wrapped up in creating tastes and healing magic. I love medicine making and using plants to heal, as well as to flavor the world around me. I hope to share some of that here.

My roots are in Northern California where I spent every possible moment I could at the Yuba River, hiking down its many trails trying to find a quiet swimming hole with a nice high rock to jump off of. Simple pleasures. The Yuba is very much a part of me and calls me more than any other place. I feel instantly restored as soon as get on one of the dusty trails and slip into the icy water.

Hardly the time of year to be thinking of going swimming though. There are also natural hot springs out there... I imagine myself out snow camping, in a pool of hot water surrounded by snow, sipping a hot ginger decoction (maybe with a little hawthorn and rose added for good measure), and gazing up at the stars.