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Peppermint for Beneficials

September 17th, 2010

The peppermint is blooming in my garden right now and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators are loving it. I’m so happy that it’s blooming at this time of the year when nectar and pollen are quite scarce. I love watching the peppermint patch as it’s abuzz with all types, sizes, and colors of pollinators.

I must divide these plants and add more clumps around the gardens. I know they can be invasive, but in my woodland gardens invasive things barely hold one against the saplings and wild flowers. I find myself trying to incorporate more and more plants that bloom and provide nectar or pollen throughout the season just to provide sources of food for these lovely little insects.

Do you have any plants blooming for the pollinators? Do you plant with them in mind?

Make Your Own: Infused Oils

September 8th, 2010

Along with using plantain as a quick treatment for bug bites and other wounds, I’m also trying to make some plantain essential oil so I can make a beeswax salve to carry with me. Then when I’m out and about I can still have access to it’s therapeutic benefits. I decided I would try to make some plantain essential oil here at home instead of purchasing it, so I read a few articles on making essential oils at home. These are different than distilled oils that you buy which are much more concentrated. Since I don’t have a home still, so I’ll be making oils that are infused with herbs not the distilled essential oils.

I read a few articles and each had different methods of making essential oils, different amounts of herbs were used in each recipe. I made mine by using a combination of all the recipes I read. I didn’t want to make a whole cup of oil as I thought I wouldn’t be able to use it up quickly, so I made a half cup. I simply chopped up 3 Tablespoons of fresh plantain and put them in a small jar and topped it with 1/2 cup of good organic olive oil (you can use other types of oil if you’d like, I happen to always have olive oil on hand).

Some recipes called for the heating of the oil and herbs, some simply called for steeping for a few days in a warm spot then removing the spent herbs and adding fresh herbs every couple days. I’m opting for this non-heating method. I’ve been steeping the herbs on my kitchen windowsill and will be refreshing the herbs a few times until the oil smells strongly of plantain. If the weather gets too cold, I may warm the oil occasionally is a pan of water, but only until slightly warm, not too much heat as I’m thinking this may damage some of the benefits of the herbs.

When it’s finished I plan on putting it in an amber bottle with an eye dropper. This winter I’ll experiment in making salves with beeswax that I’ll be able to carry around in a little tin, I’ll be sure to blog about it when I do. I’m also looking forward to making more essential oils, I bought a tea tree plant this spring and I’m hoping to make tea tree oil next, as we use a lot of tea tree oil here at Chiot’s Run.

Have you ever made essential oils at home? Do you use essential oils often?

Quick Herbal Bug Bite Salve

September 7th, 2010

Several years ago I read about the wonders of Broad Leaved Plantain, a “weed” that grows everywhere. It’s also known as: Bird’s Meat, Common Plantain, Great Plantain, Rat-tail Plantain, White Man’s Foot.

I have it growing all over the garden and I’m quite happy about it. It comes in very handy when I’m out working late and get bit by mosquitoes or if I get stung by a bee.

All you have to do for a quick salve is grab a leaf or two, chew them up and apply them to the bug bite. I often do this while I’m out working if I need to, but I prefer to make a poultice with some baking soda as it stays on better and I think it works better. (as with all wild plants, make sure you know exactly what you’re picking & using!)

What I usually do is take a few leaves, cut them finely, add a pinch or two of baking soda and a little water. Then I grind them to a wet paste in my mortar & pestle and apply to the bug bite. It instantly works to get rid of the itch or sting and keeps it coming back.

This salve is also very beneficial for using on cuts and scrapes, I often add some turmeric and comfrey when I’m using it for this purpose as turmeric helps with inflammation and pain and comfrey speeds healing.

Plantain has medicinal uses of all sorts: bites, cuts, scrapes, rashes, skin problems, intestinal pain & issues, worms, boils, bronchitis, coughs, colitis, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting, bed wetting and incontinence and many other things (for more info read this and this). I have yet to use it internally, but I use it often for bug bites, stings and cuts. I’m trying to make plantain oil for using medicinally. Since it’s an herb with no known side-effects I definitely want to try using it more often.

Have you ever used plantain? Do you use herbs/weeds for medicinal purposes?

Preserving Lemon Verbena

August 19th, 2010

Last year I bought a lemon verbena plant and overwintered it in the basement. This summer it’s really taken off so I have an abundance of it. I’ve been looking for ways to use this lovely lemony herb so that none of it goes to waste. It’s a wonderful way to bring some summer flavor into the long cold winter months here in Ohio. One of the best ways I’ve found is by add diced fresh leaves to recipes, like scones, cakes or cookies, but you can’t do that in winter. Lemon verbena dries beautifully and retains it’s flavor, so you can easily add some to your winter teas if you have a stash of dried leaves in the pantry.

Lemon verbena cooler is especially refreshing after a hot afternoon or gardening. To make: pick a handful of lemon verbena leaves, tear or chop and add to a pitcher full of water, steep overnight and enjoy the next day. If you like a little sweetness, add sugar before drinking. You can also make lemon verbena syrup to use in mixed drinks, as flavoring for ice cream, desserts and just about anywhere a lemony flavor would be welcome. I find that lemon verbena is quite delicious when added to jams and jellies. Simply add a few leaves when cooking down the berries, strain out and process as desired.

Lemon verbena can also be used to infuse sugar with a lemony flavor. I can think of many places a lemony sugar would be welcome, particularly in ice cream, iced tea, or other sweet treats like cookies and cakes. Of course you can also add a few vanilla beans to make a vanilla lemon sugar.

Lemon verbena leaves retain their scent when dried, so you can dry the leaves to use for flavoring and for potpourri to scent your home. You can also make a lemon verbena hair rinse by steeping a few lemon verbena leaves in a cup of hot water, then using to rinse hair after washing and conditioning. This leaves your hair with a wonderful lemony fresh scent.

I’m also experimenting with make lemon verbena liqueur. I’m steeping 1 1/2 cups of chopped lemon verbena in 4 cups of organic vodka. After 2 weeks I’ll be adding 2 cups of organic evaporated cane juice. I’m thinking this will be a great Christmas gift for friends that enjoy mixed beverages, being a rather dry person myself I won’t be consuming any.

I also made some lemon verbena syrup. Heat one cup of water until hot, then add 3/4 cup of evaporated cane juice and dissolve. Then added 1/2 cup of chopped lemon verbena leaves. Steep for an 30 minutes or so, then strain and refrigerate or can. Enjoy as a sweetener for teas, sauces, sweets or wherever you want a hint of lemon flavor.

What’s your favorite herb to save up for winter use?

Growing Herbs for Soothing Teas

July 19th, 2010

I’m a big fan of hot beverages, even in the summer. Most of the time you’ll find me with a cup of coffee or hot tea, especially during those cold winter months here in NE Ohio. When it comes to tea, I usually prefer herbal teas of all kinds over black tea. I like black tea iced, but not particularly served hot. As I’ve gotten more and more into gardening and growing more of my food, naturally I started growing some of my own herbs for tea. One of my favorite herbal teas is chamomile, it’s particularly good in the evenings since it’s soothing and calming (especially for people like me with slight insomniac tendencies). It’s also a wonderful herb for aiding in digestion, nothing cures stomach duress like a nice warm cup of chamomile ginger tea.

Last year my chamomile didn’t germinate well, and I ended up with one one small plant. It produced a nice crop of flowers, but not nearly enough for the amount of tea I drink in a year’s time. I had a quarter cup or less of dried blossoms by the end of the year. This year I decided I’d grow as much as I could, and boy to I have a crop of chamomile! I’ve been faithfully harvesting it every couple days, drying it on a plate in the attic and storing it in a jar. Happily I’ve been watching the quart jar fill up knowing that I’ll have plenty to get me through the coming winter. I may be able to drink chamomile tea every night before bed.

I still have a ton of chamomile blooming in the garden, so I’ll keep harvesting. I may be able to get an extra pint of dried blossoms. The extra will be used for watering my seedlings in the spring. I’ve read it’s particularly good at helping with fungal diseases and dampening off. I’ll make sure to keep you posted on this experiment come seed starting season. In the coming years I’ll be adding more and more tea herbs to my garden as I expand my flowerbeds and get rid of plants that don’t thrive. I haven’t decided which ones to add next, but I’m sure I’ll find some good ones from Richter’s. I’ve also been experimenting with growing tropical herbs in pots as houseplants. Currently I’m starting ginger and lemongrass (more on that later).

Are you a hot or a cold beverage person?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.