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Too Many Roses (a good problem to have)

Rosa mundi
Rosa mundi

Who cares about Roses? With a reputation for being fussy and needy in the garden, I sure didn’t. The tough, hardy ones that take care of themselves (you know, the weeds) are more my style.

But you almost can’t pick up an herbal medicine book and certainly won’t find an herbal cosmetic book that doesn’t include Rose, so a few years back I made a token planting of 1 sprout each of  3 old-fashioned varieties: Apothecary’s Rose (Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’), Rosa Mundi (Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’), and Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’).

These sweet shrubs turned out to be anything but fussy! Almost a little too robust, the Gallicas throw seed and are having a go at becoming a hedge while the Rugosa sends out runners in every direction! I didn’t pay much attention to them, though, until last Summer.

It was the bees I noticed first. There are so many bees working these flowers it’s actually noisy! Then, the aroma caught me. All throughout the garden I could smell those Roses. Suddenly, I was in love.

I’d only dabbled with Rose in salves and perfumes, so I gathered as many petals as I could in anticipation of Winter experiments: Oils and balms, tinctures and elixirs. Infused into aloe vera, witch hazel, apple cider vinegar. Whatever I could think of!

Today my herbal pantry shelves are brimming with rosy goodness and I can’t figure out how I ever lived without it. “Queen of the Garden” as nickname makes sense to me now.

Though I did intend to clip them back this Spring, I’ve decided instead to let the Roses run wild. Wonder who will be happier with the overflow this Summer, me or the bees….


Roses used topically are wonderful for the skin. And not only for beauty. Rose is a revered healer of wounds and important first aid plant 🙂

Rose flowers: anti-bacterial, anti-depressant, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-spetic, anti-viral, aphrodisiac, astringent, cardiotonic, decongestant, expectorant, hemostatic, laxative, sedative

Rose hips: anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxident, anti-viral, astringent, cardiotonic, laxative, nutritive, tonic, high in vitamin C


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Culinary Herbs: the apothecary in your pantry

culinary herbs for your herbal apothecary
“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician called the father of medicine

You might be tempted to beeline into the Wellness Department when looking for a remedy, but some of the best herbal medicine can actually be found hiding out in the Produce Department (or maybe in your own garden!).

Culinary herbs not only offer us nutrition (they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals) and help with the important job of digesting and assimilating our food, they also make good medicine.

Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Turmeric – herbs you already know and use – have many medicinal properties.

 

Basil: antibacterial, antiviral

Chives: anthelmintic, antibacterial, antioxidant

Cilantro: antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory

Dill: antibacterial, antioxidant

Garlic: anthelmintic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Ginger: antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral

Marjoram: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Mint: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic

Oregano: antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant antiviral

Parsley: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Rosemary: antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Sage: antibacterial, anticatarrhal, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral

Thyme: anthelmintic, antibacterial, anticatarrhal, anti-fungal, antioxidant, antiviral

Turmeric: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

 

But don’t wait until you’re already sick! Adding more herbs to your diet is preventative medicine, and is as easy as using a slightly heavier hand in your favorite recipe. Taking my cue from herbalist Susun Weed, I add herbs by the handful instead of teaspoonful.

My cooking sure has gotten alot more interesting! Nice to know, too, that it’s got an antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral punch.

Of course, you might want to experiment slowly with this. But don’t be afraid to experiment! Using different combinations of herbs, as well as more quantity, has turned my everyday eating into gastronomic adventure 🙂

(When using fresh herbs, use about twice as much as you would dried.)

 

Another trick I learned from herbalist Kami McBride. She recommends keeping herb blends and single herbs in a shaker right on the table with the salt and pepper. When they’re close at hand, she reasons, you’ll use them more often. Worked for me!

 

When it comes to herbal condiments though, my favorite is pesto. I like Basil pesto best, but only when it’s made from fresh Basil. Not always an option outside of summertime here in Massachusetts.

So during the “off-season”, I raid the Produce Department for their fresh leafy greens like Arugula, Lettuce, Chard and Kale, and blend those up with whatever fresh herbs are available.

Cilantro and Parsley work really well. You could try Rosemary and Sage too. And don’t forget to add some garlic!

 

For even more gourmet flair, infuse your herbs into olive or coconut oil. Herbal oils make great jumping off points for lots of recipes.

Oil infusions are perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sautéing. They can also be used for massage or bath oils, and are the base for ointments, salves, and creams.

Made with dried herbs, your infused oil should have a shelf-life of about one year. (Oils made with fresh plants have a much shorter time before they spoil. You might even want to keep these refrigerated for the longest shelf-life possible.)

 

Basic Oil Infusion Recipe, Simpler’s Method

1 part dried herb

2 parts oil

(a “part” is whatever unit of measure you’re using- if it’s a cup, then the recipe is 1 cup dried herb to 2 cups oil, if it’s a teaspoon, it’s 1 tsp. dried herb in 2 tsp. oil)

 

Solar-Infused: Put herb in glass Mason jar and add oil. Cover and leave in a warm, dry place for 2 weeks (this can be in the sun, but doesn’t have to be). Shake daily. Strain herbs from oil using cheesecloth or muslin. Then add another batch of herbs to oil and let sit for another 2 weeks. Strain out herbs and bottle oil.

 

Double Boiler: Put herbs and oil in double boiler and bring to a gentle simmer. Keep on low heat for 1-2 hours. *Keep an eye on it to make sure oil doesn’t overheat and scorch. Strain through cheesecloth or muslin and bottle.

(I add the spent herbs to my compost pile.)

 

Try 2 parts Rosemary with 1 part each Basil & Thyme for your herb blend. This oil would be perfect for:

– Dipping bread

  • On pasta
  • Marinating tofu
  • Hot Oil Treatment for hair & scalp
  • Massage Oil for aching muscles & sore joints

 

So jazz your taste buds and herb up your food! More than just adding flavor, it contributes to overall health and vitality, boosts immunity, and can heal illness should it happen to come down the pike.

 

(Written for my local food co-op, River Valley Market – Originally published in their Spring 2012 Newsletter)

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Spring on the Micro-Farm

Chickweed flowering in Spring
Chickweed flowering in Spring

First year in the expanded garden is off to an amazing start! We took advantage of the unbelievably mild weather and got planting nice and early. Lots of seeds are already sprouting up: radish, hakurei turnip, broccoli raab, mizuna, peas.

The star of the show for me, though, is the Chickweed. She has spread from a few isolated strands in a corner to several little patches throughout the garden. And right now, she’s full of tiny white flowers. A glorious Springtime sight!

(The largest, most succulent patch is taking over one side of a meant-for-vegetables, big raised bed. Hawkeye keeps mentioning it’ll have to be moved. I haven’t told him yet I’m letting it stay. You can never have enough Chickweed, right? Plus, I figure if Chickweed is thriving there, it’s too shady for veggies anyway…. )

I depend on Chickweed for my bodycare, but today, all I can think about is pesto!

Chickweed Pesto Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh Chickweed
  • ½ cup fresh Basil (or Parsley, Cilantro, Arugula, Garlic Mustard, whatever green you’ve got)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tbsp sunflower seeds, pine nuts or almonds
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

My method isn’t too fancy. I add the seeds/nuts to the blender first and chop them up, then add and chop the garlic, then add the greens, salt and oil and blend it until it’s smooth.

(Warning, pesto can be addictive ;))

Happy Spring!

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Re-Green & Reconnect to Revitalize

herbs in the garden
“You can fix all the World’s problems in a garden.” ~Geoff Lawton

Really cold. Ice and snow. No close parking…. But the plant people of the Northampton/Amherst Herbal Meetup Group came out last night to watch a favorite film, Numen: The Nature of Plants.

I’ve seen this documentary which focuses on the healing power of plants and the natural world several times, but its herbal stories and stunning plant images still move and inspire me.

This morning, I stumbled across two other inspiring documentaries on YouTube: Permaculture – Greening the Desert and The Great Laws of Nature: Indigenous Organic Agriculture.

Permaculture – Greening the Desert is the story of the re-greening of desertified, salted land in Jordan, 2 km from the Dead Sea. Impossible to grow anything in searing heat with almost no rainfall, right? Watch this film to see how it can be done!

The Great Laws of Nature profiles a group of First Nations People in Saskatchewan, Canada who are reclaiming their Indigenous organic and natural agricultural heritage and getting back on the road to self-reliance. A good lesson for us all!

Real-life stories of people working together to change their lives. The message? Re-Green the planet and Reconnect to Nature to Revitalize yourself and your community, body and soul.

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Hurry Up and Wait!

cardinal in the snow

Gardening catalogs began arriving before the holidays this Winter, and I jumped right on them! Didn’t want any of my first choices to be sold out when I ordered!

(I’m swooning over the “Early Blood Turnip” beets, “Hakurei” turnips, “Listada de Gandia” eggplants, and “Jenny Lind” muskmelons that I’m trying for the first time, and hoping to grow more calendula, chamomile, lavender, and holy basil than ever before)

I’ve been rushing to devour all the organic gardening books I could get my hands on to prepare for our “farm expansion” in the Spring, taking notes and stockpiling supplies like mad.

Now it’s January 11. All my seeds have arrived. Planting plans have been sketched out on paper to make sure I’m keeping good crop rotation, and starts scheduled on the calendar.

Nothing left to do now but wait for gardening season to begin again!

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