Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Scented Geranium - Herb of the Week

I should begin by saying I really love scented geraniums and that I reserve the right to make them the Herb of the Week again in the future so I can share in more detail what I know about them and the diversity of scents available. 

That being said, the Herb of the Week this week is –
                                  Pelargoniums – Scented Geraniums

Rose Scented Geranium
Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium) is a nothing like its cousin Flowering Geranium (Geranium sanguineum)  They have tiny almost insignificant flowers and depending on if you trim them or not you may not even see them.  However Pelargoniums have foliage that is wonderfully scented and beautifully textured, which makes up for the lack of floral display.  The leaves are totally edible and can be used in a number of different ways.


flowering Lemon Scented Geranium
The fragrance of a scented geranium may remind you of rose or lemon, or the plant may give off a scent of cloves or nutmeg, or your scented geranium might have an odor of pine or peppermint, or perhaps you will have a scented geranium that smells of fruit such as apple or apricot, pineapple or perhaps chocolate or coconut. And usually all you need to do is gently brush against the plant to release the fragrance, or you may need to bruise a leaf for the full effect.

Lime Scented Geranium
History
Among the plants I bring in every winter (Pelargoniums are a tender perennial) from my  Zone 5 garden are my scented geraniums.  Scented geraniums make popular indoor plants because they don’t mind dry weather and they grow with very little light unlike so many other plants you have indoors.  Originally native to South Africa they were introduced to Europe by Dutch and English sailors.  They were believed to have first arrived in 1632 after discovery on the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.  They immediately became a conversation items which grew in popularity.  They were brought to the Colonies by 1750 and by 1870 there were catalogs listing more than 150 varieties.  The Victorians grew them in green houses and used the leaves to create scented water for fingerbowls -- the height of Victorian fashion!  

To Grow
Pelargoniums are a tender perennial with a high concentration of essential oils in their cell structure.  If you live in a warm climate such as southern California, you can grow these fragrant plants outside in a pot or planted in the garden year round. In the right climate they can grow as high as 10 feet.  In areas where winters are cold you must protect your scented geraniums from frost. Bring them indoors for the winter. With more than 200 popular varieties of Scented Geraniums you can find one to your liking.

To propagate a scented geranium it is best to work from a cutting so that you get the hybrid and scent you enjoyed with the original plant.  Simple cut a stem just above the leaf nodule.  You can start the cutting in warm damp sand or in a glass of water.  Once it develops roots you can replant it.  The soil for scented geraniums should be well drained.  I make a mixture of 2 parts potting soil to one part sand to improve the drainage.  You do not need to worry about soil richness, as you do not want to grow your scented geraniums in excessively rich soil as this can cause the leaves to have less fragrance. The pH should be neutral to slightly acid, about 6.0 is fine.

I repot my geraniums in the spring.  It is part of my ritual getting ready to move the plants back outdoors.  This replacing of the soil usually replenishes the nutrients they need.  If you do not do this, you can fertilize your scented geranium using a 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Scented geraniums do best in bright light and will need ample direct winter sun when grown on a windowsill. In the garden, a few hours of direct sun will be enough. They will also do well in bright dappled light all day. Avoid overheated sunny spots, these plants actually prefer daytime temperatures around 70 degrees.
Scented geraniums generally grow pest-free.  If you see aphids, white-fly or other pests, treat them with insecticidal soap.  I wash the tops and bottoms of the leaves in fall when I bring them inside to avoid any issues indoors.

To Use
Scented Geraniums have been used in cooking since the 1800s.  With the discovery their the scents can mimic certain foods, they became important in the experimental cooking periods of the mid to late 1800s.  The flavors generally on the sweet side make them perfect for cookies, tea biscuits and shortbread.  Just placing a few leaved on the bottom of the pan before pouring in cake batter with gently infuse the scent a flavor.  Mint, Lemon, and rose are the most popular scents, but chocolate and orange have much to recommend them when cooking.  One of my favorite uses for scented geranium leaves is to layer them in sugar which I then use to create cookies or flavor jellies.

Essential oils from scented geraniums are so fragrant they are used in perfumes and colognes, sometimes substituting for the very expensive attar of rose.  You might also add scented geranium to potpourri or scented soap or add a drop or two of the essential oil to perfume a bath. 

Medicinally scented geranium is useful against inflammation.  it is an anti-depressant,  antiseptic, astringent and increase circulation.  The leaves and scents of Rose Geranium are believed to assist with pre-menopause symptoms and menstrual cramping.

Recipes


Triple Happiness Tea (From Kathleen Kips of the Village Herb Shop)

½ cup loose back tea
1 Tbls. Rose buds
1 Tbls. Rosemary
1 Tbls crushed dried Rose Geranium leaves
1 Tbls. Hibiscus
1 Tbls. Seedless rose hips
1 tsp. whole cloves

Use 1 level tsp. per cup of hot water and steep 3 to 4 minutes.  This tea is refreshing and great both as a hot or iced tea.  The medicinal properties of the ingredients are also great benefits!

Rose Geranium Tea Biscuits

1 pkg. dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
¼ cup honey

2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. warm water
1 cup milk, scalded

5 – 5 ½ cups flours
6 large finely chopped rose geranium leaves
½ cup honey
½ cup melted butter
grated rind of 1 orange
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbls flour

Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup lukewarm water to which has been added ¼ cup honey.  Beat eggs with salt and add to yeast mixture.  In another bowl mix 1 Tbls. shortening, 1 Tbls. warm water and scalded milk.  Let cool, then pour into the yeast and egg mixture.  Add 5 to 5 ½ cups of flour, mix well.

Put in a pan and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk.  Combine rose geranium leaves, honey, butter, orange rind, and flour in a small bowl.  Divide dough in half, roll out like a jelly roll and spread with rose geranium mixture.  Roll up and slice into one inch pieces.

Arrange on waxed paper in a pan.  Again let rise until double in bulk, then bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  Makes 38 biscuits.


Calming and Warming Bath Blend
1 cup rosemary
1 cup lavender
1/2 cup thyme
1/2 cup rose geranium leaves

Cover 1/2 cup of the mixture with 1 cup boiling water. Steep 20 minutes. Drain liquid into bath water. Tie herbs into a thin washcloth to use as an herbal scrub. This mixture will make 6 baths.


Once you grow a scented geranium or two, whether you call it a geranium or a pelargonium, I suspect you will be hooked on the fragrance, beautiful good looks, and easy care!

Balancing Body Spray

3 1/2 ounces filtered or distilled water
1 tsp. unscented alcohol
15 drop rose geranium essential oil
15 drops grapefruit essential oil

Place all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well.  Use on skin, especially at pulse points.  Shake before each use.

_________________

My Thanks to these on-line sources that I used in my research:

Herb of the Month Newsletter June 2009 - Village Herb Shop

I also posted some other scented geranium recipes in my blog:

Holiday Cookies 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Tuesday - Making Scented Stationary



I have not been good with the camera this past year.  I let several opportunities to take pictures of products I made, recipes I tried and activities I did go by without being recorded.  I vow that will not happen in 2013.

To prove to myself I can get work done and take pictures and post them, I decided to record the making of scented notepaper or cards.

Every Winter I make scented cards.  Many of them I give away near Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.  Sometimes I also pop them into an Easter Basket.

So here are the steps to making your own scented cards.

The materials are simple:

Cornstarch, plain white envelopes, your favorite essential oils, plastic zip seal bags and several sheets of note paper, envelopes or cards to scent.


Place about 1 ounce of cornstarch in a bowl for every card you want to scent.  Use several bowls if you want different scents.  On this day I was making , lavender, citrus and rose scented cards, so I used three bowls.  I placed about 6 ounces of cornstarch in each bowl (that’s 6 Tbls.)

Add 7 to 10 drops of essential oil to each bowl, or 1 to 2 drops per ounce of Cornstarch.
Mix the cornstarch thoroughly working out any lumps.

Spoon the mixture, about a Tablespoon, per envelope, into the plain envelopes.

Place one scent filled envelop between each sheet of notepaper and corresponding envelope. 

Stack them all up together and place in the zip seal bag.  Keep the scents separate from one another in the bags.  Press out all the extra air seal closed.  Place the bags inside a box or container away from sunlight and let them meld for at least a few days, up to three weeks.  When you remove the cornstarch filled envelopes they will have imparted their scent to the note cards and envelopes. 

bagged and sealed and about to go into a box

If you are careful and do not seal the plain envelopes you can re-scent the cornstarch and make another batch of cards.

When I take these cards to shows and markets, especially outdoor shows, I leave the scented envelopes in-between the note paper and remove it only if the item is sold.  That keeps the sun and heat from robbing the notepaper of its light herbal scent.

Completed and ready for gift giving
Scented Stationary

6 oz. cornstarch
7 to 10 drop of your favorite essential oil
6 plain paper envelopes
1 plastic bag
6 sheets of note paper or note cards and envelopes

In a bowl combine the powder and essential oil.  Spoon the mixture evenly into the six plain envelopes.  Place these between the notepaper and envelopes and seal in the plastic bag.  Allow to meld for a few days or as long as three weeks so the scent will permeate the paper.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the card sets you see here, please visit the Seasonal Items Section of our Etsy Store as once these are gone they are gone!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Company Cream Cheese Butter


This is a crowd-pleaser that makes a fresh loaf of bread into a marvelous experience.  So grab a great French or Italian loaf and serve this with a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

I made this version with fresh parsley and dried chives.

Company Cream Cheese Butter

2 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tbls. butter, softened
1 tsp. dry white wine or lemon juice
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. cumin powder
1 ½ tsp. chives or garlic chives (1 Tbls. fresh if you have it)
1 ½ tsp. parsley (1/2 Tbls. fresh if you have it)

In a small ceramic bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter.  Stir in wine or lemon juice.  Add herbs and seasonings.  Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, then bring to room temperature before serving.

I actually made this for a party taking a short cut of using 1 Tbls of Olive Oil Dipping Sauce Blend instead of the chives and parsley.  It was perfect with the Pinot.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Icy Chill, Chapped Lips and herbal Lip Balm


It got bitter here.  The same time of year it gets bitter here every year, but this year it was 40+ degrees leading up to a dip with wind chill below Zero and air temps not far above Zero!  Now I know I shouldn't but as soon as I get outside in the bitter wind, I lick my lips.  I hate it when they feel dry.  I remember to put on a lip balm only after they start to crack and ache.  This year I actually thought ahead and made a lip balm which is in my purse, but old habits die hard.  I did not put it on today until I was on my way home from work after the cold weather had done its worst.

I still thought I should share the balm I made as it is very effective.

 
Lip Balm
The easiest way to make a lip balm is to infuse dried calendula petals with 2 parts cocoa butter melted with 1 part sunflower oil. When pour into cold jars, the balm will keep solid at room temperature. 



If you want to make something more elegant and ricchly scented, you can try this recipe.  I got it from Herbaholics Herbarium.  This is a UK site so be aware they use herbs differently there than we do in the US.

Rosebud Lips Balm
9fl oz. Calendua Oil
3 Tablespoons Jojoba Oil
1½ oz. Dried Alkanet Root
1oz. Beeswax, grated
12 Drops Rose Essential Oil (optional)



Gently heat both oils in the top of a double boiler for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the alkanet root and steep for around 30 minutes, to extract the color from the root. Strain the root from the oils through cheese cloth or a coffee filter. Return the oils to the double boiler with the beeswax. Once the wax has melted, remove from the heat and add the rose essential oil drop by drop. Pour into small sterilized jars. Allow to cool thoroughly before putting the lids on.

Notice when making balms or salves you generally use materials by weight not volume.  That is important to getting a stable salve or balm that hardens as you would want.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Green Tea for your Cholesterol?

I hear the argument for green tea often and get into discussion about how it can cure cancer, lower your cholesterol and generally just make you more healthy.  And although I believe it is high in anti-oxidants which is never a bad thing to consume, I also feel that many health benefits attributed to Green Tea are not as easily proven.  For example, have you heard that it will lower your cholesterol.  I dug into this because I, like most people of my background, have cholesterol issues.  This is what I found.
A new analysis of 20 clinical trials about green tea and one of its products found that the drink reduced people's total cholesterol and LDL levels by 5 to 6 points.

The reviewed studies which involved more than 1,400 people looked at green tea and capsules containing its compounds called catechins, which are thought to decrease cholesterol absorption in the gut.

According to the findings published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, adding green tea to daily diet may reduce cholesterol, but the effect is not strong enough to replace cholesterol lowering medications.

“If someone is already taking medication for their cholesterol, they should stick with it and not try to trade it for green tea, either capsules or the beverage,” lead author Olivia Phung of Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California told Reuters Health.

The researchers found that the subjects who received the green tea, on average, did see an effect on their cholesterol, but it was minimal. Over all, their levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, fell by 2.2 milligrams per deciliter, a change of roughly 2 percent. There was no effect on their levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
So in other words, the study also couldn't find any strong links between green tea consumption and increase of "good" HDL cholesterol, or decrease of triglycerides, another type of blood fat.
Green tea is considered safe in moderate amounts, but it should be avoided by some people due to its caffeine. For some it may be worth a shot. But for others there could be side effects: A compound in green tea called EGCG may interfere with medications like anticoagulants and the cancer drug bortezomib.  To avoid medicinal interactions, talk to your physician.
As I always say, enjoy your tea for its taste and let the benefits come as the happy afterward of the relaxation and enjoyment tea will bring!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Northshore Church Program - Cooking with Herbs

Saturday I had the most thoroughly enjoyable experience with the women's fellowship group of the Northshore Unitarian Church.

I was asked to present my Cooking with Herbs lecture and to give it a breakfast theme.  I even gave a few recipes for them to try out and present that morning and some members did use a few.  I was very flattered by that.  For a few other recipes from the program, check out the Program Recipes page of this blog.

Here was my set up before the program with herbs and ingredients laid out.





The participants mingled, chatted and drank tea from special collection of tea cups that are pulled out just of this event!  I thought it was a grand idea!  Aren't they lovely?






The Orange Juice was served in Ikea ceramic cups that look like terra cotta pots! And the members brought a smorgasbord of detectible treats as you can see.

















The company was very delightful and we talked about movies and herbs and Downton Abbey and a number of other things.


After a great introduction I was able to share about making butters, vinegars, and cooking with fresh vs. dry herbs.  We sampled everything and I was able to impart a few jewels of wisdom.

herbal butters fresh on the left, dried herbs used on the right
Lemon Fruit Dip



Lemon Herb Yogurt Sauce for fruit

1 Tablespoon frozen orange juice or lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/2 Tablespoon of lemon herbs like lemon thyme, lemon balm, lemon verbena or lemon grass
1 tsp. lemon peel
1 container (8 ounces) vanilla yogurt

Whisk the juice concentrate and the herbs and lemon peel into the yogurt.  Serve chilled over fruit or as a fruit dip.   You can then use a fresh or frozen fruit salad and have this on the side or tossed in.






Seasoned pork with sage, parsley and maple syrup.
We tasted fresh herbs used to season pork and in savory breakfast muffins.

We ended by giving away from Fun Herb items and discussing medicinal herbs like Golden Seal and comfrey and wild crafting.



Savory muffins with parsley, dill and thyme.





I want to add a special thanks to Sallee, Fran, Sandy, Andrea and the others who made this such a special morning of fun and sharing!


If you want to see a list of all the program I can provide you your group, please see my Program Listings (located on the website.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spiced Right Pan-Fried Potatoes - Weekend recipe

Today - Saturday - I am giving a program at the Northshore Unitarian Church in Deer field, Illinois.

It is a cooking demo for which I will post a few photos this coming week.  I sent a few recipes in advance which volunteers will make for the event, and I am making samples for the participants.  This recipe is one of those I sent ahead and the herb blend that is part of it was one of the samples guests received.  So this weekend you can enjoy the same recipe we will be enjoying in Deerfield.

Have a great weekend!

 Spiced Right Pan-fried Potatoes 
Yield:  4-6 servings 

2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
3 tsp. Basic Potato Blend, divided (recipe below)
additional salt, if desired 

Directions:
Melt the butter with the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Carefully slice the potatoes directly into the skillet, cutting random thin pieces.  Season with 2 teaspoons of the potato blend and salt to taste, if using.  Use a spatula to mix well and stir the potatoes regularly as they begin to brown.  After 5 minutes or so, reduce the heat to medium; cover.  Continue to cook and stir. When the potatoes are cooked through, season with remaining teaspoon of potato blend; cook and stir for another minute.  Serve hot.   You can keep these warm in a baking dish covered with foil.  These can be made in advance and reheated.  Save the remaining seasoning to toss into the potatoes after reheating.

Basic Potato Blend 
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon Sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic granules
3/4 teaspoon onion granules
½ teaspoon rosemary
½ teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon dillweed 

Measure all ingredients into a small jar. Shake well to mix. 
Seasons about 5 pounds of potatoes.   

 I adapted the above recipe from Sandra Bowens which I originally found at www.apinchof.com

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What do Gardeners do in the Winter?


Freezing temperatures are not about to keep us from thinking green and nurturing plants.

Here are a few tips to keep your plants healthy and your thumb green throughout the winter months:

• Stay vigilant so snow and ice don't damage your outside plants. Gently brush off snow from heavily laden shrubs and trees to prevent breakage. Shovel or blow snow with care to avoid burying shrubs and perennials.

• Keep your garden tidy by continuing to remove broken or fallen branches. A few minutes of tidying now can save a lot of time in the spring and get you some winter exercise.

• If you need to remove ice from sidewalks or driveways, choose an environmentally friendly product that won't harm your plants. Most deicing products damage lawns, and granular fertilizers contaminate our waterways and the Bay. Instead, use sand or products containing magnesium chloride.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Indoor Crafty ideas for winter, part 1


There is nothing so bad as posting an interesting title, but leaving the post blank!

Last Week I was going to be away from my computer so I posted a few blogs ahead. But few of them posted exactly right, so for those who looked at this before, I am sorry.  Here is the actual info:

Terra Cotta Bird Feeder / Bird Bath

Make the outdoor animals happy and give yourself something fun to view.

Make a bird feeder from a terracotta pot.

These make good gifts too!

Using a plain colored terra cotta pot with a tray, invert the pot and the tray.  Use the upside down pot as a base and the right side up tray on top of the pot bottom.  Super glue the tray onto the pot bottom. You can use any size you like.  Now using paints, stamps, or permanent markers, decorate the pot.  Fill it with seed to create a bird feeder.  In the summer fill it with water to be a bird bath.

As you can see the squirrels love it when I fill mine with pumpkin seeds!


Tortilla Snow Flakes

We have not had a snow storm of any consequence here in Chicagoland this year, much to my disappointment, so when I found this activity in files I just had to try it.  It is very fun to try with your kids.


All you need is a few flour tortillas, melted butter and colored sugar (or food coloring and white sugar)
    or for a more adult tasting treat use olive oil and a blend of dried herbs like thyme, savory, parsley and oregano

Fold the tortillas like you fold paper to make snowflakes.
Cut out all the little bits just like you would for paper snowflakes.
Then open them up.
Place them on a baking sheet and paint with melted butter.  Sprinkle on colored sugar and bake for a few minutes. It's a great snack and a craft in one!

Scented Stones
I tried these with the Girl Scouts a few years ago and they were a big hit.
1 ½ cups white flour
¼ cup salt
¼ tsp cornstarch
2/3 cup distilled water, brought to a boil
1 Tbls essential oil or fragrance oil (any scent you want or make smaller batches and use multiple scents.)
2 tsp dried herbs if desired

Mix all the ingredients together in a disposable container until a dough forms.  Roll the dough into balls about the size of a large marble.  Flatten them with your fingers to look like pebbles and rocks. 


They must be allowed to dry very thoroughly.  If you are not sure if they are dry spread on parchment paper on a baking sheet and set in low oven 200 degrees for several hours.  Once they are dry place a few pebbles in a terracotta tray with a few dried herbs or leaves and pine cones for a decorative display.

Using dried herbs in the blend will give them a more earthy coloring.


 
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