Friday, October 29, 2010

Benefits of Herbal Tea

Whether you want to shed some few pounds or simply desire to have good heath, herbal tea is definitely good for you. Herbal tea is a great substitute if you find drinking mineral water plain. My husband has taken to drinking tea every night and as a result says he feels so much better.  I’ll give you a progress report after another month or so of this.  The important thing to remember with herb tea is you need to drink five glasses every day to relish all the benefits. Here are top reasons why you should drink herbal tea.

1. Great for weight loss

Herbal tea has been known to help in losing weight. This is a popular topic, reason being that teas can actually help in weight loss as they increase the body’s metabolism thus improving your blood circulation, cholesterol level and ultimately enhances cardiovascular health. Green tea has an antioxidant referred to as catechins, recent studies show that they significantly help to reduce fat.  Remember Green Tea, like black tea has caffeine.

2. Prevents Cancer

People who drink herbal tea are less susceptible to lung cancer and other common diseases. Believe it or not, research indicates that herbal tea helps to treat stroke, heart ailments and even certain cancers.  Lemon Grass is a good herb for canser as are any that help with nausea.

3. Cures stomach ailments

If you suffer from frequent stomach ailments, try drinking at least a cup of tea every day after your meals. Herbal tea reduces the acids in the stomach and therefore digestion takes place ably. There are specific herbs that are especially good for stomach disorders, like catnip, ginger, peppermint, thyme. 

4. Enhances the immune system
According to recent scientific studies, herbal teal strengthens the body’s immune system to ensure you are not prone to flu and other lung diseases. With a strong immune system, your body now has the ability to repair and regenerate the damage cells rapidly.  A number of herbs work with your body to improve immunity in a number of different ways.  You can increase Vitamin C with rose hips, add anti-viral properties with thyme, and use violets to gently stimulate the immune system.

5. Reduces stress

When your work and lifestyle seems stressful, drink one cup of tea. It is relaxing and therefore very effective at minimizing stress levels.  Certain herbs with also enhance this stress reduction ability, including lavender and chamomile.

On the other hand, herbal tea has been known to interfere with medication. For instance, it prevents proper absorption of iron in the gut.  Rosemary can if overused raist the blood pressure. Herbal tea can also become habit forming.  However, the Backyard Patch can help you with this habit!

Backyard Patch Tea

I began to blend teas back in the late 80s when all you could buy in stores was peppermint or chamomile tea.  I found both rather boring and realized that mixtures of herbs, like those I cooked with, would provide better flavors.  Unable to find all the herbs I wanted to use, like apple mint, pineapple sage and flavored thymes, I planted my first herb garden.  It was a desire for herbal tea that started it all.

Since then, I have designed more than 25 different herbal teas.  All are combined first with taste in mind and medicinal benefits second, because nothing that tastes awful can be taken long enough to cure anything.  All of my teas are available in our E-stores -- eBay Store or Etsy store. 

Check out all my teas at this link:   
. 
This year I designed two new teas: Holiday Comfort and Joy with several herbs including hibiscus and lemon balm.  It makes a beautiful red tea you can serve hot or iced and the raspberry leaf and lavender in it will give your immune system a boost to help ride out winter colds.  The other tea, Christmas Tidings, is a black loose-leaf tea blended with citrus and spices.  This unique recipe was adapted from one created during coffee shortages in World War II.   My seasonal tea blends are at this link.

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.  ~Bernard-Paul Heroux


* Disclaimer: Information within this site is for educational purposes only. Statements about the product efficacy have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The products mentioned within are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As always, please consult your Medical Doctor for any medical advice or treatment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Savory - Herb of the Week

It is Wednesday again and time to give you some rejuvenation for hump day.  So here is the herb-of-the-week a post where you will find details and recipes on herbs we hope will  get you thinking creatively about growing and using them at home.  Now as you coast down into the weekend you have either a new herb on your list or something new to do with an herb you already know.

Herb of the week is Savory (both winter and summer)

Savory is actually two different available plants.  Satureia Hortensis  - Summer Savory, which grows well from seed is a native of southern Europe.  It grows to a height and spread of about 12 inches. It is an aromatic annual that will flower in pale lilac during the late season and after the frost will turn reddish.
Satureia MontanaWinter Savory, grows from cuttings rooted in sand or root division and is a North Africa native.  It grows into a dark green woody shrub with needle-like leaves and will get slightly larger than the summer variety getting 12 to 18 inches.  It is also bushier and denser and will live several years.


Summer Savory

Winter Savory
You can use the fresh or dried leaves from both for flavoring string beans, fish, cheese, and egg dishes, as well as stuffing and soups.


History
Whether used for its medicinal properties or to flavor food, Savory has been around since the days of the Romans, and before. The English word Savory means “Pleasing in taste or smell” and was derived from the Old French word savoure meaning to taste, which came from the Latin word satureia.

Historically, savory has a reputation for regulating sex drive.  Winter Savory is said to decrease sex drive, while Summer Savory is said to enhance it.  Romans used Savory as an herb and seasoning even before they used pepper. They used it as a medicine, a bee sting treatment, and an aphrodisiac. When the Romans brought it to England, it was used as an ingredient in stuffing rather than as an herbal remedy.

To Grow
Easy to grow, Savory, a close relative of Thyme, and a distant relative to Mint, makes an attractive border plant for any culinary herb garden. According to plant experts, it requires around six hours of sun a day in soil that drains well. Savory does not grow in full shade.
Winter savory (S. montana) is grown as a perennial in zones 5 to 9. It has foliage similar to summer savory but is spicier and evergreen in mild climates. The plant forms a mat 12 inches high. White flowers appear in late summer. You can propagate winter savory by layering or cuttings. A low-growing form, creeping winter savory (S. montana 'Procumbens'), is also available. Winter savory should be replaced with new plants every 2-3 years. You can propagate replacements from the original stock.  It can be pruned to form a loose, low aromatic hedge. Cut as needed prior to or immediately after flowering for culinary or medicinal use.

Plant summer savory in well-drained, moderately fertile soil and full sun. Space plants 12 inches apart. To ensure fresh summer savory all season, start a second crop in early summer for late harvests.  You can start summer savory from seed, sowing it outdoors in spring. Or start seeds 4 to 6 weeks early indoors.

To Use
Although Savory is largely a culinary herb, it contains oils and tannins that have mild astringent and antiseptic properties that can be useful in medicines.  Summer Savory is the type most often used for medicinal purposes.  Teas can be made for occasional colic, diarrhea, indigestion, flatulence, stomach upsets, mild sore throats, and as an expectorant.  It is also sometimes used in a tea by diabetics to alleviate excessive thirst. 
Externally, rubbing a sprig of Savory on wasp or bee stings provides instant relief.  Try using an ointment made of Savory for minor rashes and skin irritations.  The essential oil forms an ingredient in lotions for the scalp in cases of incipient baldness. An ointment made from the plant is used externally to relieve arthritic joints.
For cooking, try savory as a substitute for black pepper. Harvest summer savory as you need it. The rich aroma will be most intense just before the plant flowers. Use it fresh or dried for a pleasant sweet, spicy flavor to vegetables, meats, pastas, and rice. It is my favorite for tossing with beans and adding to soups. Add a bite of summer savory in salads, lettuce salads, potato salads, and serve chopped as a topping to hot dishes. You can also use the leaves in tea. In cooking, winter savory goes very well with both beans and meats, very often lighter meats such as poultry or fish.  Winter Savory is also a great mixing herb. It blends well with different culinary oreganos, thymes and basils and can be added to meat, poultry or fish. Its small leaves are the perfect compliment to herb cheeses or as last-minute additions to sautés. Even though it has a strong flavor when fresh, it does not hold up well to prolonged stewing. Famous for making its mark on beans, dried Savory also perks up stuffing and can be mixed with Sage, Thyme, and Bay. Add to ground Turkey or Pork with Fennel Seed, Cayenne Pepper, and Thyme. Or, add a pinch to Chicken, Seafood, or Tuna salad or to a hearty soup. There are very few dishes that a little Winter Savory won't make better.

Recipes

Herb Dressing


1 cup dried parsley  
½ cup each dried basil, thyme, savory, and marjoram
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup vinegar      

Mix together dry ingredients and store in an air-tight container. Each time you need a dressing, shake together 1 tbsp. of the herbs mixed with ¾ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar. 

Hearty Herb Blend

2 parts dried rosemary
2 parts dried savory
1 part dried thyme
1 part dried marjoram

Grind fine to use in a shaker or leave coarse.  Great salt substitute.  Good rubbed on roasts or added to stews.

Savory Herbal Marinade

For use on Red Meat:
2 1/2 Cups Red Wine
3/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Small Onion or Several Shallots, chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, sliced
2 Fresh Greek Bay Leaves, broken into pieces
2 teaspoons each Fresh Thyme, Oregano and Winter Savory, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Salt

Allow meat to marinate overnight or for at least 12 hours.

To use on Chicken, exchange the red wine for white wine and the red wine vinegar for white wine vinegar. The herbs may also include French Tarragon, Lemon Thyme or Rosemary or any combination of those listed.

For Pork, add fresh mint to the White Wine Marinade.
For Fish, use lemon juice in the place of the vinegar and the Winter Savory chopped fine and be conservative with any other herbs.

If you prefer to cook without alcohol, you may substitute as follows:
For 2 ½ C red wine, Use 2 C apple juice 1/3 c cranberry juice and 1T Lemon Juice
For 2 ½ C white wine, Use 2 C white grape juice & juice from 1 can of mushrooms
Pickled Green Beans with Savory
Makes 6 pints

3 pounds of green beans
12 three-inch sprigs of fresh summer savory
1 quart of white wine vinegar
1 quart water
¼ cup pickling salt (do not substitute table salt)
1 Tbls. Sugar

Wash and dry beans.  Remove the stem ends and trim the beans to fit the jars chosen, leaving ½ inch headspace.

Prepare the jars, lids and boiling water bath.  Fill each clean dry jar with beans and two sprigs of savory in a non-reactive pan.  Combine the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Pour the hot liquid into the jars, just covering the beans.  Wipe the rims and attach the lids securely.

Place in a boiling water bath and when the water returns to a boil process for 15 minutes.  Remove the jars, cool, labels and store.

These recipes are just one aspect of the Backyard Patch. To read our herb research, or see a listing of our 200 +  herbal blends for cooking, tea and bath, including many that contain savory visit the Backyard Patch on-line at www.backyardpatch.com

All recipes copyright 2010 Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh and should not be copied without permission of the blog owner.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Herbal Holiday Decorating Ocasional Series part 2 or 5

I enjoy using herbs for seasonal decorations.  I love certain herbs and how their scents enhance holiday and event experiences.  This season I wanted to share a few of my favorite herbie holiday ideas, which includes food and beverage recipes as well as decorating tips and gifts that use herbs.  This is Part 2 in an occasional Series of 5, to read part 1 on Herb Scented Dough, click here.

One of the downsides of living in Zone 5 is that certain plants are not capable of wintering over outside.  One of those is Rosemary.  Rosemary also does not do well in a dry environment.  So usually you bring in the plant and it dies in January because running the heat dries out the air and the lack of humidity kills the Rosemary.  My solution to this problem is water my rosemary every day from the bottom while the pot sits on a tray filled with pebbles.  If I plan to travel during the holiday and won’t be home to water daily, I cut the plant and use the sprigs to scent my Christmas cards.  In the language of flowers rosemary is for remembrance, so when I remember my family and friends with an annual holiday card rosemary is a perfect item to include and the pine-like scent makes it even better.

Christmas Gift Tags
Speaking of Christmas cards, one of my favorite things to do with those I received in years previous is to make scented gift tags for this year’s gifts.  I craft or purchase a potpourri, then trim the cards into playful shapes and seal the edges with craft glue or double stick tape, leaving one small opening for adding the potpourri.  Once the card is filled, I seal the opening.  When the glue is dry I punch a hole in a corner, thread it with ribbon and using a permanent marker, I write the names of gift recipient on the face.  Tied to the gift they make an additional gift themselves which can be slipped into a drawer or boot.


Garland of Mittens
I don’t know about you, but my hall closet seems to be populated with several seasons of unpaired mittens and gloves.  I kept trying to throw them away, but I would convince myself that might find the other half of a pair if I just waited.  Finally instead of delaying, I turned them into decorations.  I created a garland by pinning them to a red scarf to create a swag, then filled them with potpourri. I hung them across the front door so you brushed them as you entered the house everyday.  Here is a photograph of last year’s garland.  This year I am going to add a few colorful  thrift store mittens and encircle the door.

Scented items
Scented items are an easy way to enjoy the holiday.  Something I enjoy making, which is also rather easy, is a cinnamon stick hotplate.  It makes a great gift, especially when coupled with a tea pot or kettle.  Try making this for the upcoming season and see if you don’t get hooked too!

Cinnamon Stick Hotplate

Cut a 6” x 6” square of luan or plywood (about ¼” thick) using 3-inch cinnamon sticks, glue the sticks into a checkerboard pattern with white clear-drying craft glue or silicone glue (do not use hot glue.)  Felt feet on the bottom are nice too.  When used as a hot plate it releases a great cinnamon scent.

This is an occasional series, which means I will not be putting it up at the same time every week, but if you miss it, you can search for it under "Holiday" to find all five posts.  I still have more recipes and hand-crafted gift ideas, so stop back.

And for those who enjoy spiced cider, hot chocolate and spiced teas check out our holiday listings in our e-store:  www.backyardpatch.etsy.com

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making Herb Tinctures (with alcohol)

Recently I spoke about the herbs to get you through the winter.  In that post I referenced Tinctures and Tea as a way to take these herbs medicinally.  I am not a fan of herbs in capsules, mostly because they are powdered herbs and those lose potency quickly if not monitored.  There was also an exposé a few years back that pointed out that many capsules did not have the needed concentration to provide the medicinal benefits.  As a result I recommend Teas and Tinctures instead.
The philosophy behind tinctures is to capture the important physical essence of the plant. This is done by using the power of ethyl alcohol to extract and preserve the volatile oils of the herb in question.
The substance used to extract the herbs is known as the menstrum. The herbs you are tincturing are known as the mark. Tincturing will extract and preserve both the water-soluble and alcohol-soluble properties of an herb, making it entirely different in concentration and effectiveness from a simple infusion or decoction (fancy words for tea).
Herbs & Tinctures
In the interest of taking a more involved stance in their health, many people are turning to homemade tinctures made from fresh or dried herbs. Tinctures have proven to be more powerful and longer lasting than dried herbs. Tinctures will keep up to two years and keep their potency if stored properly. Making your own tinctures will save you quite a bit of money. If you purchase tinctures in a retail store you will get a few ounces whereas if you make it yourself it will yield about a quart.
Materials Needed
When purchasing herbs, make sure you are buying from a reputable source. Better yet, grow your own herbs to be sure of the highest possible quality. When growing your own you can make any number of combinations to make up your tinctures. I have also found that when growing my own herbs I get the most enjoyment, knowing not only did I make the tincture but I grew the herbs. I become part of the process from beginning to end.
There are several items that you will need to make your own tinctures. First you need either powdered herbs or fresh cut herbs. Vodka, brandy or rum, 80-100 proof to cover the herbs. Mason jars with lids. Muslin or Cheesecloth that is unbleached. Lastly, labels for the jars.
Steps to Creation
You will need 7-10 ounces of chopped fresh herbs for every quart of vodka, brandy or rum. I prefer to use fresh herbs when making my tinctures. When using powdered herbs, I use 4 ounces of herbs to one pint of liquid. If you are making a tincture from bitter herbs it is best to use rum as it will mask the taste of the herbs. To make a non-alcoholic tincture use distilled water, glycerol or vinegar. Keep in mind that if you use vinegar the tincture will have to be refrigerated.
Put your herbs in the mason jars and then pour the liquid over them so that it comes up to about an inch above the herbs. Seal tightly and label the jars then put them in a very dark, warm area. Keeping them in a paper bag on top of the refrigerator has worked well for me. You will have to shake the jar everyday, several times a day if you can mange it.
At first check the solution daily to make sure the vodka, brandy or rum still covers the herbs. Let the mixture steep for at least two weeks and up to three months. When you reach the allotted waiting period, line a sieve with the cheesecloth or muslin and pour the liquid thru the sieve into another bottle. Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze to extract all of the liquid. You can now fill small bottles with droppers with the tincture for ease in use. Be sure to label the jar with the name, the alcohol used, and the date.
Using Tinctures
The typical dose is one teaspoon tincture in a cup of tea, juice or water taken three times daily.
There are no right formulas for making tinctures. Experiment with different combinations. Be sure you write down the formula so when you come up with a winning combination you will have it on file.
Here are a few ideas for treating colds. Make tinctures from the following herbs:
* echinacea (leaves, flowers)
* elder (leaves, flowers, berries)
* eyebright (leaves, flowers)
* ginger (root)
* peppermint (leaves)
* yarrow (leaves, flowers)
* catnip (leaves)
Most important to remember
This information is for reference and education only!!  It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a physician.  I do not advocate self-diagnosis nor self-medication!  Be aware that any plant substance, whether used as food or medicine, externally or internally, may cause allergic reactions in some people.  Everyone responds differently to herbs. Use them carefully and responsibly!
For details on a few other herbs that make great tinctures for winter ailments, see our blog on the topic of 7 Winter Herbs posted 10/19/2010.
      Although we do not market tinctures, we do sell many varieties of tea at the Backyard Patch.  Please stop by to view our different blends as http://www.backyardpatch.com/


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lemon Grass Herb-of-the-week

I am choosing another Lemon Herb for this week's Herb-of-the-Week post.  I love lemon herbs and this herb has many great uses both in cooking and tea so even if your zone isn’t perfect for it, you can grow the plant in a raised bed or pot.  Hopefully you will try and enjoy this herb many consider to be only good for Asian foods.

This week's herb is:  Lemon Grass


History

Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citatus) did not come to the attention of the west as a medicinal or culinary plant until the modern era.  Now extensively cultivated, especially in tropical climates it tends to be used for distilling the essential oil which is used in commercial cleaning and perfume products.  It is, however, also an amazing culinary herb.


To Grow

A tropical perennial it is grown as an annual in most of the United States as it is hardy in only zones 9 & 10.  But even in Illinois it will grow 3 to 5 feet tall in a single season.  The plant grows in a clump with flat long grass-like leaves about ¼ inch wide.  The edges of the blades are finely serrated and must be handled carefully as they can cut the skin, especially later in the season when the blade becomes more rigid.  Unless in the tropics it generally does not flower.

It can be grown in pots or as a replaceable accent plant in the ground.  In either case it needs a fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of moisture.  It needs a minimum temperature of 45 to 50 degrees F, so do not plant it outside too soon and be ready to harvest it at the same time you would harvest end of season Basil. I tent to grow it in a raised bed, which gives me the ability to control the richness of the soil, but gives the roots more room to spread than a pot dies.  In fall I sometimes uproot a small plant to bring in for winter.  It needs a long hot summer and much moisture to grow large enough to use in Asian cooking. 

To Use

In Asia it is the thickened stems near the root, that resemble leek leaves, that are sliced and used in stir-fry in Thailand, Malaysia and southeast Asia. You can buy it fresh in some supermarkets, in Asian markets it is called “Sereh.”  The leaves, however, can be harvested and chopped anytime for tea and at the end of the season it can be unearthed and hung to dry for winter use.  These leaves can also be used to flavor stir fry and can be used in sauces and fish stock.  Fresh leaves are cut and applied on fish, prawns and other sea foods to improve the taste. When used long, they should be removed before serving, for, as like Bay leaves, they have sharp edges.  The leaves dried can also be used along with orange and lemon for a citrus potpourri.  The leaves should be dried in the dark to help preserve the color.

To extract the lemongrass essential oil, all you need to do is to subject the lemongrass leaves to steam distillation. The extract from lemon grass is pungent and tastes like ginger. The essential oil has antiseptic and antifungal properties and is used in creams and lotions for rheumatic aches and pains and athlete’s foot.  Tea is thought to help with indigestion and gastric upsets.  The essential oil is most popular in perfume, soap and cosmetics.  It is especially good for oily skin and in home fragrance preparations, like scented sachets and potpourri.  I love it in candles and bath salts.

In terms of medicinal value, Chinese herbalists are employing lemongrass oil to treat colds and pains such as fungal infections, stomach aches, digestion issues, spasms, muscle cramps, tooth aches and rheumatic pain. You can alos make a preparation out of lemongrass which is used in washing the hair. Because its sister plant is citronella, one can also use it as a pesticide and repellant to household rodents. This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel. This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches.

Lemon grass is also used commercially as the lemon scent in many products including soaps, perfumes and candles. A related plant, (Cymbopogon nardus) is the ingredient in citronella candles sold to ward off mosquitoes and other insects.

Recipes

Lemon Grass Sprimp
1/2 pound medium shrimp - peeled and deveined
12 mushrooms, halved
1 (4.5 ounce) can mushrooms, drained
4 cups water
2 lemon grass
4 kaffir lime leaves
4 slices galangal
4 chile padi (bird's eye chiles)
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
1 tablespoon tom yum soup paste (optional)

Directions
  1. Trim lemongrass and cut into matchstick size pieces.
  2. To make stock: Add the shrimp heads and shells to water, then cook for 20 minutes. Turn the fire off. Soak the heads and shells for further 20 minutes before discarding.
  3. Add stock, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, chili padi, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili paste to a pot and bring to a boil.
  4. After boiling for 5 minutes, add shrimps and both mushrooms. Cook for another 10 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves.
Lemon Grass Green Beans & Scallops
1 shallot, sliced crosswise
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup finely chopped pineapple
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon lemon grass, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cilantro, finely chopped
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt, to taste

1/2 pound French style green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons safflower oil
4 large sea scallops

Directions
  1. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Stir in the shallot and 1 pinch of salt; cook and stir until the shallot has softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir shallot, pineapple, ginger, lemon grass, cilantro, honey, vinegar, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, and salt to taste, together in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Place a steamer insert into a saucepan, and fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Cover, and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
  5. Add the green beans, recover, and steam until just tender, 2 to 6 minutes depending on thickness.
  6. Immediately immerse in ice water for several minutes until cold to stop the cooking process. Once the green beans are cold, drain well, and set aside.
  7. Heat the safflower oil in a large skillet over high heat. Thoroughly dry each scallop. Once light wisps of smoke are visible in the safflower oil, carefully place the scallops in the skillet.
  8. Sear the scallops until golden brown without moving them, about 1 minute. Flip the scallop and cook until desired doneness, about 90 seconds.
  9. Turn off the heat and remove scallops from the skillet. Toss green beans into the still-hot skillet for 1 minute. Serve scallops over green beans and top with pineapple salsa.

Lemon Grass Hair Rinse
This rinse is recommended as an alternative to washing the hair when you don't want it to frizz, but you do want it refreshed.   The chamomile will add shine to the hair, while the essential oils in the lemongrass will coat and protect the hair.

6 cups water
2 tablespoons loose chamomile
2 tablespoons loose lemongrass leaves, chopped
Optional:  Add 1-2 drops of essential oil to fragrance the hair

Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized pot, then turn the burner to the lowest setting. Add teas and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, with cover on, to room temperature. Strain, reserving liquid and discarding tea.  If adding essential oils, do so now.  Pour into a spray bottle (use a funnel) and store in the fridge until use.

To Use
In the shower, after initial rinse and shampoo (optional), spray hair with the rinse mixture, and wring out hair (you may partially rinse with water, but do not completely rinse out).  Spray additional rinse mixture during drying and styling.

The Backyard Patch makes Lemon Grass scented bath salts and several teas which include lemongrass.  To see these and other products from the Backyard Patch, visit us at http://www.backyardpatch.com/

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seven Medicinal Herbs For Winter Health

I get asked over and over to recommend herbs that will help people weather the seasonal effects of winter, including, but not limited to colds and flus that spring up each winter.  In answer to these inquiries, I created a list of the seven best herbs for curing your winter woes.  I collected this information from 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave Press, 1998) by Steven Foster, an Herbs for Health editorial adviser and, with Albert Leung, Ph.D., author of Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients (Wiley, 1996), and several other books about herbal health.   I recommend these seven plants as great treatments to have on hand now as they will assist with all the effects of winter.
Insomnia: Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is the dried flower head of an annual member of the aster family. German chamomile, the species most often sold on the U.S. market, is grown in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Argentina, and Europe. It’s been used for centuries as a mild sleep aid, and scientists attribute its gentle sedative activity to alpha-bisabolol, a constituent found in its oil.
A tea is made by steeping 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of hot water and taken three times daily.
People who are allergic to other members of the aster family, including ragweed, may be allergic to chamomile.
Energy: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
In a 2,000-year-old herbal, Shen Nong wrote that ginseng is good for quieting the spirit, curbing the emotions, brightening the eyes, enlightening the mind, increasing wisdom, and, with continuous use, “longevity with light weight.”
Since the 1960s, scientists have extensively studied Asian ginseng. At least seven European clinical studies show that standardized extracts increase respiratory performance, alertness, power of concentration, and grasp of abstract concepts. A ­controlled study in France that evaluated complaints of patients suffering from “functional fatigue,” such as being worn out or having an empty feeling, showed that people who took ginseng experienced less ­fatigue, anxiety, and poor concentration compared with people who took a placebo.
Ginseng contains more than eighteen active chemicals called ginsenosides, whose behavior in lab tests matches the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) description of the effect the herb has on the body. In Germany, Asian ginseng products are allowed to be labeled as tonics to treat fatigue, reduced work capacity, and lack of concentration.
To make a tea, use 3 teaspoons of dried or sliced root per cup of water. Place the herb and water in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Strain. Drink a cup two or three times a day.  You should stop taking this and give yourself a break after a few weeks to avoid side effects.  I suffer from seasonal effective disorder.  I get so much sunshine in summer gardening and bicycling that when the days shorten I really begin to lose energy.  I buy this root in my local Asian market.
Some people have experienced overstimulation or gastrointestinal upset when taking Asian ginseng, and some women have reported breast tenderness or menstrual problems after long-term use. Avoid ginseng if you have high blood pressure or if you’re pregnant.
Eye Strain: Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Bilberry is a relative of the blueberry. A small shrub with sweet black berries, ­it grows in northern Europe, western Asia, and the Rocky Mountains of North America.
Bilberry was a popular medicine among sixteenth-century Europeans, who used the leaves to fight inflammation and in­fection. They also used the herb to treat ­diarrhea, prevent scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency), and disinfect mouth sores.
During World War II, pilots in the British Royal Air Force reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam. During the 1960s, Italian and French scientists investigated these reports to learn whether bilberries could improve vision. As a result, preparations of bilberry fruit are used in Europe today to enhance poor microcirculation and thus improve eye ailments such as night blindness and diabetic retinopathy. Research shows that pigments in bilberry called anthocyanosides strengthen capillaries by protecting them from free radical damage and stimulating the formation of healthy connective tissue. However, most studies on bilberry have involved animals or only a small number of people.
Rather than fashioning a tea, perhaps try a tincture from the berries that you can use to flavor a plain green tea or make a jelly and eat it on your toast.
No side effects or interactions with other drugs have been reported.
Circulation: Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo products come from the leaves of the only surviving member of the ginkgo family, a species that has existed for more than 200 million years. Most commercial leaf production is from plantations in South Carolina, France, and China.
Ginkgo leaf has been cultivated since the fifteenth century in China, where the leaves were used to “benefit the brain” and treat lung disorders, cough and asthma symptoms, and diarrhea. Today, ginkgo is one of the best-selling herbal medicines in Europe.
Most research focuses on using ginkgo to increase circulation to the extremities and the brain, and more than 400 scientific studies support its use for this. Scientists attribute ginkgo’s health benefits to unique compounds called flavone glycosides and ginkgolides, which inhibit development of cardiovascular, inflammatory, and respiratory disorders. Ginkgo is a strong antioxidant—it directs its free-radical scavenging activity to the brain, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system. This is what makes it promising in the treatment of age-related declines of brain function.
Unlike other plants if you find a capsule containing at least 40 mg of standardized extract, this is recommended to trying to craft a tea.  A typical dose is three capsules daily. It must be used for six to eight weeks to produce results.  I had two older members of my church who swore by it and when these 80 year olds hiked through the mountains of Guatemala with me, I believed in its potency.
Ginkgo can cause gastrointestinal upset, headaches, or skin ­allergies.
Depression: St.-John’s-Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
You may have heard the news: St.-John’s-wort can offer the benefits of prescription antidepressants without the side effects. It is the dried flowering top of a plant native to Europe; in some parts of the United States, it grows like a weed.
During the Middle Ages, remarkable and even mystical properties were attributed to St.-John’s-wort. By the nineteenth century, U.S. physicians used it as a mild sedative and, in 1997, St.-John’s-wort was the focus of national attention after ABC’s news program 20/20 reported on the herb’s ability to quell depression.
At least twenty-three controlled studies involving more than 1,800 outpatients show that it works. In one recent study of 105 outpatients with mild to moderate depression or temporary depressive moods, 67 percent of those taking St.-John’s-wort improved, while only 28 percent of those taking a placebo did. Those taking the herb reported feeling less sad, hopeless, helpless, useless, and fearful.
St.-John’s-wort takes time to work, though—allow six weeks of continuous use. To make a tea, steep 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the dried herb in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes, then drink. The recommended daily dose for a tincture is droppersful twice daily.
Hypericin from the flowers may cause people with fair skin to break out in hives or blisters upon exposure to sunlight. If you take St.-John’s-wort, stay out of the sun and the tanning salon.  The leaves can also be used to make a great golden yellow dye.
Colds: Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea)
Few of us don’t know this herb, which is now one of the foremost cold medicines on the market.
Native Americans of the prairie used Echinacea more than any other plant to cure ailments ranging from colds to cancer. It was the best-selling medicinal plant in the United States until the 1920s, when antibiotics began to replace it. But in Europe it has been used throughout the twentieth century; in 1993, German physicians prescribed Echinacea more than 2.5 million times.
Research shows that Echinacea enhances the activity of white blood cells and other specialized immune system cells. It increases their ability to attack foreign invaders such as cold or flu viruses and helps accelerate healing if infection already exists.
No single chemical component has been identified as causing Echinacea’s medicinal action. A 1997 controlled clinical study involving 120 volunteers in Sweden showed that daily treatment with the juice of fresh flowering E. purpurea at the first sign of cold symptoms inhibits development of colds, and, if a cold is in progress, cuts the duration of the illness in half.
Because the typical capsule dose is so high, I recommend making a tea or a tincture, you will still have to drink the tea several times a day.  For the tincture take 60 drops three times daily. Use at the first sign of cold or flu; take continuously for two weeks.
People allergic to members of the aster family, such as ragweed, may also be allergic to Echinacea. The German government recommends that it not be used in cases of diseases of the immune system, including multiple sclerosis and HIV infection.
Flu: Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, S. nigra)
Elderberry comes from the honeysuckle family. Medicinally, elder fruit from the North American S. canadensis and elder flower from the European S. nigra are used. American herbalists combine the dried flowers of S. canadensis with peppermint to treat fevers and colds. Native Americans used a tea made from the plant’s inner bark to induce vomiting; Europeans used black elderberry to treat colds and fevers.
Most of the chemical research on elderberry involves black elderberry. Current interest in this species stems from the research of Israeli scientist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, who, along with her colleagues at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, developed an elderberry extract standardized to contain three flavonoids. In a 1993 clinical study performed during a flu outbreak in Israel, she found that the extract reduces the severity and duration of flu symptoms compared to a placebo. Apparently, the extract’s compounds inhibit the ability of the flu virus to enter cells, and thus disarm the virus’s ability to infect.
The Germans prescribe elderberry flower to induce sweating in order to treat fevers and increase bronchial secretions associated with full-blown colds.
A typical dose is 40 drops of tincture every four hours. To make a tea, simmer 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried flowers in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes and drink up to three times daily.
Safe use of elder always relates to the dried or cooked fruits and flowers. When fresh, all plant parts can produce allergic or other adverse reactions.
If you are intrigued to make your own tinctures, please stop back on Thursday where I will give instructions to make these concentrated herbal concoctions.
To read more on the uses of herbs in your home, see our Facebook Page or websites through http://www.backyardaptch.com/
by Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wintering Herbs Indoors (part 2 of 2)

Yesterday I began a presentation on what to do when winter arrives and you want your plants inside with you.  Previously I discussed what to bring in, what not to bring in and how it is done.  Today I am continuing with making the plants comfortable and how to treat them while indoors.
Acclimatization
At this time of year there is still summery weather and frost is mild if at all, so rather than bring the plants in too soon, I leave them outside.  If a cold night is forecast, I bring them in over night, and then take them back out in the morning, much like I would to get greenhouse plants ready to be out in the spring.  This reverse hardening off, keeps the plants growing, but helps them realize there is change ahead.
As I said I move them closer and closer to the house as the weeks progress, sheltering them under trees or up against the siding so they can absorb the heat from the day into the night.  I also place them in shady areas away from direct sun so they becomes used to the lower light levels.  Once the days stay almost as cold as the nights, then they will stay in permanently.
 Cut Them Back
Once your plants are ready to move indoors, it helps to cut them back slightly (by as much as a quarter depending on the plant.)  Cutting them back stimulates new growth that will adjust to indoor conditions.  In many cases the older foliage will drop off when the plant comes inside.
Watch for insects
Whiteflies, spider mites and aphids are three main pests you can bring in with the plants.  You might want to go as far as examining your plants with a magnifying glass, checking for insects and eggs.  One of the last steps I take before moving a plant inside permanently is to give it a wash.  Using room temperature water, give them and overall gentle washing that includes tops and bottoms of leaves.  Mild dish soap can be used, but is not needed, the washing itself dislodges the little creatures rather well.
Caring for the Plants Indoors
I arranged the pots in the sunniest windows of my home.  In this case the picture window in the living room and the bedroom.  I like the scented geraniums in the bedroom.  There is nothing more intoxicating than being able to reach up a stroke the leaf of a scented geranium in the morning (relaxing too!)  They get leggy in winter so the ability to spread along my headboard seems to appeal to them.  Try to find a place with daytime temps near 70 degrees and evenings 55 to 60 degrees.
Humidity is required for indoor plants.  If you begin to see brown leaf tips or edges, this is usually a sign of low humidity levels.  To encourage enough humidity for your plants, sit them close together (they give off moisture) or set them on oversized trays of sand or pebbles.  Fill the tray with water so the bottom of the pot sits above the water line.  As the moisture evaporates it will fill the air around the plant with humidity.  Misting has been used to assist with this issue, but for perfect protection you would need to mist almost constantly.
As light levels diminish with the approach of winter, the herbs seem to enter a holding pattern. They generally don’t appear to be growing.  Water only when the soil becomes dry or nearly so. Sometimes I am lax with this, but the scented geraniums don’t mind.  Rosemary will, however require constant humidity, so if you bring one indoors, place it on a tray of pebbles and keep a level of water in the tray at all times.  This will protect it from the lack of humidity you have in a heated home in January and February.
Although the days begin to lengthen in late December, the herbs don’t seem to begin to grow until March. When I notice the new growth, I started fertilizing the plants occasionally with a dilute solution of soluble fertilizer.  Don’t fertilize them until then.
Keep a close eye out for pests.  They can lay dormant on the leaves of plants until reawakened by the heat and stress of the plant.  Dish soap diluted in water and sprayed on plants can cut down the numbers, as well was washing off the plants leaves, but depending on infestation you may need to segregate an infected plant.
Another issue that can affect indoor plants is mildew.  I have heard, but have not tried a mixture of baking soda and water used as a dip for stems can retard this once it starts.  However, good air circulation should keep it from happening at all.
Providing adequate light in winter is always a problem. Grow lights are a good idea, but even with them plants can become leggy, so do not expect too much.  I have used flood lights, fluorescent lights and even the new LED lights, but nothing can be a true substitute for sunlight.  I have stopped using them because I just trim the branches back in the spring and let them do what they want in the winter if it keeps them growing.
Putting Them Outside Again
At the end of April, I began hardening off the herbs I have wintered over indoors. I place the pots close to the east side of the house where they get morning sun but are out of the wind. Once the nights are mild you can leave them out all night.  This hardening off period can last a couple of weeks depending on the season.  But once the fear of frost is past you can then plant them outside again to enjoy another season.
Once the herbs are outside you can relax, -- or maybe not!
For more articles and recipes about the use of herbs, check out our Facebook page and websites through http://www.backyardpatch.com/

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wintering Herbs Indoors (part 1 of 2)

Finally our first frost has come.  Not a tough one and most plants were unaffected, but that automatically changes my focus from brining in the harvest to bringing in the plants.  I know that some herb gardeners live where winters are frost-free may be able to get away with doing what my body wants right now which is to relax and wait until the seed catalogs come in January so I can plan for a new year.  However in Illinois, in Zone 5, I have to recognize that some of the plants I love cannot possibly stay outside all winter and return in spring after a nap.  Plants like rosemary, tender lavenders, flavored thyme plants, or other plants that will die if the temperature goes below 15°F must be handled in some way and now is the time.
For me I like to have some plants indoors for winter.  The scents and the ability to cook with them in winter are important to me, so over the years I have devised a plan for saving the plants from winter’s chill.
What Not to Bring In
Perhaps you love all the herbs in your garden equally, and you’d like to bring them all indoors. I suggest you don’t, even if you have a huge house with dozens of south-facing windows.
First of all, forget about the annuals, such as summer savory, chervil, cilantro, borage, and dill. Their lives are about over; if you want them indoors in winter, you can start new plants from seed.
Don’t bother bringing in tough perennial culinary herbs whose dried leaves have good flavor—I’m thinking of sage, oregano, and thyme—unless you think you can’t get along without the fresh leaves. Consider the size of the plants, too, and how many smaller plants you could put in their place in front of the window.  I grow lemon thyme in a window box along with a small bunch of chives and that window box always comes back inside in the fall, so I can snip fresh thyme and chives.
Don’t bring in huge tender plants if you don’t have room for them, no matter how badly you need them for next year’s herb garden.
And if space is limited, abandon tender perennials that are easy to start from seed. Marjoram is a good example—unless you ­absolutely must have it for midwinter salads.
Lastly, turn your back on plants that are diseased or pest-ridden. Even plants that are healthy now can become afflicted in the harsh atmosphere of the indoor desert, but there’s no sense in helping disease and pests get off to a good start.
What to Bring In
Several plants are worth bringing indoors. I suggest you keep tender perennials on which you’ve lavished special care and affection. These include unusual cultivars; plants of sentimental value for me that is my lemon verbena; expensive plants such as bay laurel; and herbs that you intend to propagate next spring (such as scented geraniums). And bring in plants that will look great as house plants, such as that prostrate rosemary in the hanging basket.
What about that absolutely wonderful tender perennial pineapple sage or pineapple mint that smells so good? Chances are they are too large for any window you have and may be too big for any pot you have, the solution is to take cuttings right now.  Using a rooting compound, take slips near leaf nodules, dip them in rooting compound and place them in water or moist sand. They’ll root in a couple of weeks and will occupy only a modest space by the window thereafter. If the new plants show signs of taking over the windowsill, take cuttings from them, and so forth, until it’s time to set them outside in the spring, after the danger of frost is past. If you’re not sure about the hardiness of a large perennial plant, you can take cuttings now and winter them indoors in case the original plant doesn’t survive.  I’ve done this with some of my favorite thyme plants because in Illinois, you never know if winter will cooperate and leave a protective blanket of snow in January or not.
What I Brought In
In September, a couple of weeks before our anticipated first frost, I looked over my herb garden, then looked over my sunniest windows, and tried to predict my craving for fresh herbs in the depths of winter. The herbs I decided I had to bring in included five tender perennials: a prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) I was training into a pine tree shape.  My two scented lemon & lemon rose geraniums (Pelargonium crispum ’), W small savory plant I got as a gift, and a lemon variegated thyme.  This year I did not bring in the Pineapple sage, even as a clipping because the plant was so effected by the heat this year, that it just did not seem healthy enough to give me good cuttings.  Oh well!
 How I Did It
All the herbs I planned to bring indoors had spent the summer in the ground. The healthy top growth hinted that the roots had also grown significantly, and so it turned out. I’m always surprised to discover how big the root mass gets when it’s not restricted by a pot.
I mixed up a potting medium that includes course sand and organic matter for nutrients and draining.  When I transplant I try to keep the soil with the roots, just knocking off the excess.  This cuts down on the shock to the plant.  That means I just need the new soil to fill in the bottom and the top of the pat as I am transplanting.  I keep some on hand incase the soil sinks in the winter.  If you don’t like the weight of sand you can substitute vermiculite or perlite.  I use a blend that is 1 part potting soil, two parts peat moss (organic matter) and one part course sand (be sure not to use play sand, that is like clay.)  Dampen the mixture so it does not leach the water out of the existing soil.
You can dig the plants up with a shovel or trowel, but using a trowel requires strong wrists.  This year, following my hand injury, I don’t have the strength back yet, so I used a shovel.  I found it to be much easier and may switch to this from now on.
Choose pots that are slightly larger than the root mass of each herb. I have a wide variety I have collected and saved over the years, but any pot will do, if you want a uniform look you can choose all terra cotta or you can wrap them in aluminum foil like I did one year.  It looked sparkly from outside!  If you have used the pots this year, be sure to wash and bleach them before reusing.  After laying in the plants, I watered them thoroughly and moved the pots into the shade.  I move them closer and closer to the house as it gets colder, bringing them in overnight if frost is predicted, but setting them back out during the day.
TOMORROW
I will finish up this post tomorrow with details on the final prep before brining them in permanently and how to care for the plants while indoors.  Please stop back!
And for more articles and recipes about the use of herbs, check out our Facebook page and websites through http://www.backyardpatch.com/
by Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
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