Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Meadowsweet - Herb of the Week

Time of another unique herb and this one is wonderful for many uses.  
Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria Herb of the Week

Meadowsweet is a member of the rose family and can easily be found growing wild along streams and rivers, as well as damp woodlands.  It is a high altitude plant that can grow as high as 3,300 feet.  It is native to Europe and Asia and was successfully introduced and naturalized in North America.  It has a tuberous root that is the key to its scientific name.  The name meadowsweet is an Anglo Saxon name, which comes from the fact this herb was used to make mead, and drink made from fermented honey.

Another strewing herb, tossed on the floor in the 16th century to warm and scent the floors and keep infections at bay, this was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth the I who preferred it in her bedroom.  Gerard, an early herbalist, believed it outranked all other strewing herbs because the scent was delightful and did not cause headaches by being over powering. It was a traditional plant of druids and was in the most sacred category along with mistletoe, watermint and vervain.

The sap contained in the branches of Meadowsweet contains a chemical called salicylic acid.  Isolated in 1853 by an Italian professor, Bayer formulated acetylsalicylic acid in 1899, they called it aspirin after the old botanical name for Meadowsweet, Spirea ulmaria.  The herb is considered much less harsh to the stomach than aspirin.

Meadowsweet is especially suited to headaches in which the person has a hot head and feels a pounding sensation in the head. Meadowsweet is cooling and it promotes circulation, which can relieve stagnant energy in the head. Besides having the ability to relieve pain, meadowsweet is also anti-inflammatory in nature. Taken daily as a tea or tincture it can help relieve chronic arthritic pain and inflammation. Stomach aches and acid reflux.  My favorite herbs for stomach aches and nausea are ginger, peppermint and meadowsweet. Meadowsweet shines as an herb for stomach aches, nausea and poor digestion and is especially helpful for those who find herbs like ginger to be too warming. Meadowsweet removes stagnation (like when you eat a meal and it stays in your stomach too long) and relieves discomfort in the stomach.

To Grow

This hardy perennial grows 2 to 4 feet in height with a spread of 2 feet.  Clusters of strong scented creamy-white flowers in mid-summer.  The leaves are deeply veined and appear in groups of two to five.    All meadowsweet variety are hardy in Zone 4. 

The seed can be stratified, but is not required.  To stratify the seed you need to to place them in a situation where extreme cold will break down the seed coat and end their period of dormancy.  Placed in a plastic bag filled with damp sphagam moss or a damp paper towel for a couple of weeks usually does the trick.  If in a hurry, run the seeds over a nail file to break the seed coat before planting.

Sow prepared seed or plug trays in the autumn.  Cover lightly with soil and winter outside under glass (a cold frame would work perfectly.  Check from time to time and water as needed when dry. Germination should take place in the spring.  When the seedlings are large enough to handle, plant out 12 inches apart into a prepared location.

You can also propagate by division.  The golden and variegate styles must be propagated by division.  In the fall, dig up established plants and tease the plantlets apart; they separate easily.  Replant in a prepared site or place in pots.  A soil of bark, peat and potting soil works perfectly.

The plant prefers sun and semi shade and a moisture retaining soil.  If your soil drains well, you will need to add rotten manure or vegetative compost and leaf mold and plant in a more shaded area. Once a plant is established you will need to lift and divide it every 3 to 4 years in the fall to keep it vibrant.

To Use

Gather young leaves for fresh or dry use before slower appear in mid-summer.  Pick flowers just as they open and use fresh or dry.

Meadowsweet leaves and flowers can be made into an herbal vinegar that is sweet and lovely for salad dressings.  You can also make fritters with the flowers or use them to flavor mead and beer or to make wine.

The whole plant is a traditional remedy for an acidic stomach.  The fresh root is used in homeopathic preparations and is effective on its own in the treatment of diarrhea.  The flowers, when made into a tea are a comfort to flu victims.

A black dye can be obtained from the roots when used with a copper mordant, while the flowers can produce a greenish-yellow dye and the leaves and stems make a blue dye.  One can also use the dried leaves and flowers in potpourri.

A tea made with leaves and flowers will help the body of excess fluid and alleviate heartburn.  It is also a treatment for feverish colds and mild diarrhea.  It even works as a mild sedative and painkiller. Use one teaspoonful of dried flowers and/or leaf blend to each cup boiling water. Infuse for 10 minutes and drink warm. Add honey and cinnamon to improve taste and soothe sore throats

To make a meadowsweet beer; boil 2 ounces each of meadowsweet, betony, raspberry leaves and agrimony in two gallons of water for about 15 minutes.  Strain and add 2 pounds of white sugar, stirring to dissolve.  Bottle when nearly cool.

Add the leaves to soup for a unique and interesting flavor.  You can add the flowers to jams and stewed fruit which lends a slight almond flavor.


Norfolk Punch 

The recipe for Norfolk Punch was discovered in the 1970s in the Leet court records of Welle Manor in Upwell, Norfolk. It was unearthed by Eric St John Foti. The non-alcoholic drink is believed to have been created by Benedictine monks as a tonic, about 700 years ago. The Middle Ages was a time when everyone relied upon the curative properties of herbs for the relief of their ailments, including depression.

Today, the recipe is still made with natural spring water, honey, and a mixture of the numerous original herbs and berries. Produced for several years in Norfolk by the Original Norfolk Punch Company, the brand was sold in 1994 to Orchid Drinks. As a result one cannot find the recipe to reproduce here, but I am told it has 30 different herbs in it including Meadowsweet.

Meadowsweet Sorbet
Meadowsweet sorbet is a special treat. Its relaxing flavor will have you oohing and ahhing with your loved ones.

4 handfuls of Meadowsweet flowers
½ pound brown caster sugar
3 juiced lemons
1 thinly grated lemon rind
3 cups of water

Put sugar into water, stir and bring to a boil. Rapid boil the sugar water for 10 minutes to produce a light syrup. Remove the pan from the heat. Now add the juiced lemons and the thinly grated lemon rind. Stir. Next add the Meadowsweet flowers. Stir. Allow to infuse until the syrup is cool/cold. Strain the syrup through a muslin and freeze in a plastic container overnight.

Now take out your frozen Meadowsweet syrup (it won’t be that frozen), and blend with a hand-blender until smooth. Then put back in the freezer for 24 hours. Take out and blend again, then freeze for a further 48 hours. Enjoy.

Meadowsweet Elixir (From Rosemary Glasdstar)

2 cups meadowsweet flowers
2 cups vodka (50% is best)
½ cup (scant) glycerin

Place the meadowsweet flowers in a jar. Add the vodka and glycerin to the jar. Shake well. Let this macerate for 4-6 weeks and check on it often. You may find that as the flowers soak up the alcohol and glycerin, the liquid will no long cover the herb.

To remedy this you can take a clean stone or weight and use it to weigh down the flowers below the liquid. If necessary, you can add a bit more alcohol to cover the herb. I opened my jar frequently and pushed down the flowers and that seemed to work just fine.

Once you are done macerating the herb, it’s time to strain off the mixture. The easiest way to do this is strain it through a cheese cloth which you then squeeze the dickens out of until you get all the moisture from the flowers. Once it is strained you can bottle and label it.

Meadowsweet is safe for most people. However, it should be used with caution for the following people
  • children under 16 who have the flu or chickenpox symptoms (because of the rare but serious Reye’s syndrome)
  • people with asthma (may stimulate bronchial spasms)
  • people who are allergic to aspirin
  • As with many herbs Meadowsweet should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Monthly Bath Recipe - Spring Wonder Bath

This bath will help rejuvenate your dry skin and give you a new vigor of the first blossoming of Spring!

Basic Starter:
1 1/2 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup Epsom salt
1/8 cup baking soda
2 Tbls. cornstarch

Spring Wonder Bath:
  • 1/2 cup basic starter
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup lavender
Create the base or starter blend.  Use 1/2 cup of starter blended with oatmeal and lavender.  Place in a glass jar and shake to blend.  

Make drawstring pouches out of cheesecloth, organza or muslin, enough to hold anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the herbal mix. Tie about 1/2 cup of the blend into a bag and tie tightly shut so the loose ingredients won’t float out. After use, the contents can be emptied, the pouches rinsed out, washed, then refilled and reused.

To Use:
Hanging method: Two ways these can be enjoyed, either hang a sachet on the tap while the hot water is running, making sure the water is running through it. Once the tub is filled, let them float around.

Infusion Method: Boil a quart of water, turn off heat, add pouch, cover, then steep (for at least 20 minutes for best results). Add the piping hot infusion (and the bag) to a full tub, being careful while pouring to avoid burning yourself.

Note: Do not steep in an aluminum pot.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Herbal tincture for mood - weekend recipe

Recently I used an herbal tincture made with brandy to flavor the brownies I took to the Garden Club meeting.   That tincture was made with meadowsweet which is wonderfully sweet and a great addition to baked goods.

Tinctures are a great way to extract the healthy goodness from herbs in to an alchohaol base or melstrum (much like you make vinegars.)  You can then take the tincture as “medicine.”  If you are old enough you may remember that cough syrup always had some alcohol in it. 

The recipe I am sharing today is a tincture I first learned in the Essential Herbal Magazine.  It is a wonderful blend to help lift winter spirits.  I get crabby and sad when the sun stays hidden for long lengths of time, so this blended tincture was perfect for me.  I put a teaspoon of the blend into my tea each morning then have more when I get home each day.

Mood Lifting Tincture by Mary Graber
To prevent or ease the winter blues, take 1/2 -1 tsp. three times daily.

100-proof vodka/brandy
2 parts hawthorn berry, plus flower and leaf if available
2 parts lemon balm
1 part St. John's wort
1 part milky green oat tops

Place the herbs in a lidded jar and pour in enough vodka/brandy to cover.  Steep the herbs for several weeks in the vodka/brandy and strain prior to use. If you are in a hurry to use this, give it a week to steep and strain out only what you need for a couple days at a time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lungwort - Herb of the Week

In keeping with my desire to feature unusual and exotic herbs this year, I have chosen Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis as the Herb of the week.

Lungwort, a hearty, herbaceous perennial, is a popular garden plant grown mostly for its appealing spring flowers that are pink, or red when they open, then turn violet and blue, creating a multi-colored effect.  There are also white cultivars.  The white spots on its green foliage were thought to resemble diseased lungs giving it its name and making it popular as a folk remedy for treatment of lung diseases such as tuberculosis, this of course was due to the Doctrine of Signatures.  If you are curious about this doctrine see my previous post. Also known as Soldiers and Sailors, Spotted dog, Joseph and Mary and Jerusalem Cowslip it is a plant in the borage family which can be seen in the shape of purple that so matches borage.

Perennial flower gardeners will recognize this plant as it is a popular perennial shade plant especially due to the fact it flowers which many shade plants do not do in so colorful a fashion.

It is native to the northern US and Europe.  It is naturalized in many countries with a cooler climate as it grows in cool, moist areas and woodlands from zone 3 to 6.

To Grow

This shade plant that is most suited to zone 2 and 3. The first flowers on 9 to 12 inch stems, appear in early spring, and the plant continues to bloom util late spring.  The blotched, silvery-white variegated leaves, remain attractive for many months.
growing well in the shade
It makes an effective ground cover for shaded areas, but it also looks good in in bold clumps at the front of an herbaceous or mixed border.  The plant is undemanding provided there is sufficient moisture.  Water freely in dry weather if soil appears dry.

Division, preferably at the end of the season, is the easiest propagation method, but it will grow from seed. However Lungwort seldom produces viable seed, making division more suitable.  Sow seed outside in any soil in the spring, but you get better plants by dividing and replanting roots in a shady spot during late fall months.  Thin plants to 24 inches. You will want to cut the stems back in the fall for over wintering.  It can self-seed erratically.  If you do not want it to overtake your garden, always dig up the seedlings that appear in spring.  No special winter care is needed as the plant is very hardy.
Sissinghurst White
The white version is called ‘Sissinghurst White.’  It is a semi-evergreen perennial with the same height and width as the colored variety. If you grow a plant called Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), it is in the same family as Lungwort and has a similar appearance.
Virginia Bluebells courtesy of

To Use

The leaves of the Lungwort contain mucilage, tannin, saponins and sislic acid and some of these can have beneficial effects for coughs and sore throats.  Some herbalists prescribe lungwort to control diarrhea.  Chesty coughs, wheezing, and shortness of breath were thought to benefit from an infusion of the dried leaves.

The leaves are edible, though the hairiness means that they are disliked by many. The can be added to salads in small quantities. They can also be cooked at a potherb and the hairiness disappears on cooking. But the leaves do not have a very pronounced flavor. They can be substituted for spinach in some dishes, but as a vegetable the cooked leaves tend to be a bit slimy. Due to the mucilage, the best use of these leaves is as a thickening agent. Use them as a substitute for okra in West African and cajun cookery. 

Harvest the leaves after it is done flowering in summer and dry for medicinal use.


Egg salad with lungwort
½ cup lungwort leaves, washed and finely shredded
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into rings
1 small lettuce (ie little gem), shredded
½ cup mixed salad leaves
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbls. mayonnaise
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Arrange the lettuce on the base of a serving dish and top with the sliced eggs. Top the eggs with the mixed salad leaves. Mix together the spring onions, mayonnaise, lungwort leaves and seasonings in a bowl. Use this to top the salad and serve immediately.
This is a twist on a traditional Louisiana Filé gumbo. This is a traditional stew that incorporates filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves) as a flavoring and thickener. Lungwort leaves are substituted as the thickening agent in this version.

Lungwort Leaf Gumbo
½ cup butter
4 celery sticks, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 parsley sprigs, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup flour
4 Tbls lungwort leaf powder
8 ½ cups fish stock or water
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
1 chili pepper, finely chopped
¼ pound smoked ham, diced
¼ pound hot sausage (chorizo is good) cut into ½ inch slices
1/3 pound prawns, shelled (reserve shells and heads for stock)
½ pound firm white fish, cubed
salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the butter in a large soup pan and heat to melt. When nicely melted and sizzling add the celery, onion, parsley, bell pepper and garlic. Fry over a low flame for about 20 minutes, or until the onion is soft and golden then add the flour and lungwort leaf powder. Stir the mixture constantly for about ten minutes to form a roux then add the stock and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer then cook for about 20 minutes before adding the ham, fish and sausage. Continue cooking for a further 30 minutes. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly then add the prawns and thyme. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes then adjust the seasonings and serve on a bed of rice.

Lungwort Tea
1 Tbls dried lungwort leaves (or lungwort leaf powder)
1 ¼ cups boiling water
honey, to taste

Warm your teapot and rinse clean. Add the lungwort leaves to the pot and pour over the 300ml boiling water. Cover and set aside to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a cup or mug, sweeten to taste with honey and serve. Herbalists recommend that this is taken three times a day. Whether or not the tea has any medicinal benefits, the mucilage from the lungwort leaves combined with the honey will help relieve a sore throat.

Here is an old chest cold recipe:

1 part Anise seed
2 parts Coltsfoot leaves
2 parts Lungwort

Steep 2 tsp. in 1/2 cup boiling water. Add this tea to 1-1/2 cups althea tea which has been prepared by soaking 1 tbsp. althea root, leaves and/or flowers in 1/2 cup cold water for 8 hours. Take the mixture with honey, in mouthful doses.

This is an old recipe and I would consult a doctor or herb practitioner before making this to self-treat.  See my post earlier this month on Coltsfoot.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mini Cheese Balls - Weekend Recipe

Quick appetizers or just right snacks.  These are great because they average about 100 calories each if you use regular cream cheese and 50 calories each if you use Neufchatel, the light cream cheese.

Mini Cheese Balls – a Savory Truffle
adapted from a recipe from Sargento

8 oz. cream cheese at room temp
1 cup shredded firm cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, pepper jack, monetary jack)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and fresh pepper

Combine cream cheese, shredded cheese and Worcestershire sauce with lemon zest in a large bowl.  Add salt and pepper.  Divide mixture into fourths.

Into each of the four portions choose ONE of these blends to add.  You can make 4 different blends!
            1 tsp. Butter N Cheese blend from the Backyard Patch
            1 tsp. Boursin Blend from the Backyard Patch
            1 tsp. Herbal Spread blend from the Backyard Patch
            1 tsp. Fiesta Dip blend from the Backyard Patch

Form each portion into 1-inch balls with damp hands and set on a baking sheet.  Chill until firm, about 4 hours.  Then roll the balls in any of these assorted toppings.  The herbs add no calories!

  • Chopped nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crumbled cooked bacon mixed with paprika
  • Chopped fresh herbs
  • Dried crumbled herbs (or Herb Mix, like Herbal Spread by the Backyard Patch)
  • Chopped dried raisins or cranberries (very Valentine's Day festive!)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Weekend Recipe - Green Goddess Dressing at home

Salad in the winter is so important.  It brings fiber and moisture into your diet.  But dressings seem bland in winter so they need a bit more zest.  If you have not tried a Green Goddess Dressing this will be a great bit of zest to add to your winter salad.

Green Goddess Dressing 

1/2 cup butter milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbls. lemon juice
1 anchovy filet (for authentic flavor)
2 Tbls. BYP Green Chervil dressing mix
1 fresh garlic clove, minced (optional)

Blend together in a jar or cruet and shake well. Serve over greens.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Herbal Love Bath - Bath Blend of the Month

Herb Bath Blend of the Month.  It is February the month of love.  So I chose a blend of herbs that all have a meaning related to love.
Lavender: Devotion
Lemon Balm: Called Heart’s delight
Chamomile: wisdom, patience
Rose petals: inspiration to lovers

Herbal Love Bath Tea
½ cup dried lavender flowers
½ cup dried lemon balm
½ cup dried chamomile flowers
½ cup dried rose petals

Mix all ingredients together and package into small muslin sacks (3” x 3”). Add about ½ cup to each bag.  Tie a ribbon around a stack of four to give with the following directions.

To Use:
Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the pouch of herb tea. Let steep for 30 minutes. Draw a nice warm bath. Just before stepping in, pour in bath “tea” along with the pouch of herbs. Relax as long as you want in this wonderful bath. Rub the pouch of herbs on your skin for added pleasure.

We make a special Lover's Tea Blend for Valentine's Day that you might enjoy along with this bath blend.  You can find it on Etsy in our Seasonal Herbs section.
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