Monday, November 29, 2010

Comforting Herbal Teas

I got caught out in a monsoon about a week ago.  My clothing was soaked to the skin and the wind whipped my wet clothing giving me a chill.  And this was before the train and bus ride that drops me a mile from my house.  I knew I was going to need to be proactive or the weather was going to take me down, so when I arrived home I brewed a batch of herbal tea and took a warm shower.  I can gladly say now that the immunity boost I got from the vitamin C in the rose hips of my tea, along with the anti bacterial properties of the thyme and sage have kept me from getting even a sniffle since that incident.

As a result I thought it might be good to share with you a few ideas for using a comforting cup of tea to help you recover, or even avoid, a few of winters sniffles.

Colds and Flu symptoms can often be held back with a combination of lemon and ginger.  This unique tea mixture I have made with just a touch of brandy or whiskey too to aid in sleeping.

Ginger and Lemon Tea

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed if you can)
2 to 4 slices of ginger root (about 1/4 inch thick) or 1 tsp grated ginger
1 Tbls. Honey

Bring water to boil, bruise the ginger root and drop it into the boiling water.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 min.  Remove from heat ans strain into a heat resistant cup.  Add lemon juice and honey.  If you want to clear your sinuses add a 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper and if you want to aid relaxation add a snifter of brandy or whiskey.  Stir and sip while covered with a warm blanket.

If you suffer from coughs or a dry scratchy throat, a bit of peppermint will help with this and add to is some germ fighting sage and thyme and you will have perfect treatment for a fever or a cough.

Peppermint Anti-Cold Tea

1 tsp.dried thyme
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. dried peppermint
1 cup bolling water

Boil the water and pour over herbs.  You can place them in a tea ball or the corner of a coffee filter so you don;t have to strain them.  Cover and let step for 8 to 10 minutes.  You can sweeten with honey (not sugar).  Drink up to 2 cups for 3 to 4 days to relieve symptoms.

With the lowering of the barometric pressure as storm fronts move through many people experience headaches. I developed my Headache Tea which I sell at the Backyard Patch for just such headaches which I tend to have regularly in the fall and winter. Here is a link if you want to try some yourself.  Those headaches will effect my sleep as well and although I have developed a Dreamtime and a Rest Easy mint Tea which I sell.  You might try this remedy if you want to make your own:

Snoozing Enhancer Tea

1 tsp. dried chamomile
1 tsp. dried lemon balm
1 tsp. dried lavender flowers

Boil the water and pour over herbs.  You can place them in a tea ball or the corner of a coffee filter so you don't have to strain them.  Cover and let steep for 6 to 8 minutes. Best when sipped before bed time.

Hope you enjoy these teas and if you want to see our entire line of teas, both herbal and those with herbs we've combined with green tea or black tea, just click into our website here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Leftover Turkey Recipes any one!

We are always thankful on Thanksgiving and other holidays for the people we get to share them with that enrich our lives so much.  As a result we always overcook, just in case we find out someone is alone on the holiday so we can invite without crisis.

My husband the frugal chef always buys a 15 to 20 lb. turkey for the two of us to roast on Thanksgiving.  This year was no exception.  He likes the leftovers, but he keeps every part of a turkey down to carcass from which he makes stock.  As a result I needed to find recipes that made turkey into something new if I was going to eat it for a month and a half.  So these selections from my recipe collection are kitchen-tested recipes to give you a few easy ideas to create with your leftover turkey:

Turkey Waldorf Salad

1 cup shredded roasted turkey
1 sliced celery stalk
1 cut-up apple
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Salad greens

Blend together sour cream, mayonnaise, and white wine vinegar in a large bowl.  Add turkey, celery, apple, walnuts until well blended.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with greens.

Turkey Barley Salad

¾ cup barley
2 cups baby arugula
2 cups shredded roasted turkey
½ cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Fines Herbs
Salt and pepper

Cook barley according to the package directions; drain and rinse under cold water. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with baby arugula, shredded roasted turkey, dried cranberries.  Mix olive oil, fresh lemon juice and herbs with a whisk.  Toss with salad.  Season with salt and pepper.

Turkey - Corn enchiladas

2 cups shredded roasted turkey
1 cup corn
1 ½ cup shredded pepper Jack cheese
8 small flour tortillas
1 cup enchilada sauce

Combine shredded roasted turkey, corn, and 1 cup of shredded pepper Jack cheese; season with salt and pepper.   Roll up in 8 small flour tortillas and place in a baking dish. Top with 1 cup enchilada sauce and remaining ½ cup shredded pepper Jack cheese.   Bake at 400° F until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Day Later Turkey

4 cups roast turkey, sliced or cut into large chunks
4 Tbls. butter
2 Tbls. flour
2 cups Half and Half cream
4 egg yolks
Season with herbs of choice – savory, paprika, sage, dill or oregano
¼ cup dry Sherry or apple cider

In a large heavy saucepan, brown turkey pieces lightly in butter.  When lightly browned, sprinkle flour over the turkey.  Turn gently.  Gradually add 1 cup half and half cream, stirring gently.  Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg yolks.  And the second cup of half & half, then salt, pepper and sherry.  Add this gradually to the turkey mixture.  Stir carefully and slowly until it thickens.  Taste for seasonings.  Serve over crisp buttered toast of hot split biscuits.  Serves 4 to 6.

Turkey Dill Orozo Soup

2 cut-up carrots
½ cup orzo
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1½ cups shredded roasted turkey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Simmer cut-up carrots and orzo in low-sodium chicken broth in a medium saucepan until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.   Stir in shredded roasted turkey add chopped fresh dill.  Cook until heated through.

Turkey Tetrazzini  What set of leftover recipes could exist without this tried and true favorite.  But this version with a few herb seasonings, will be just a little different.
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups light cream
1 tsp. savory
½ tsp. sage
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked turkey, diced
12 ounces thin spaghetti, cooked
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon sherry
Buttered bread crumbs, optional

Melt butter in a Dutch oven. Add sliced mushrooms and brown slightly. Blend in flour. Add chicken stock. Cook, stirring until thickened and smooth.   Gradually stir in cream. Season to taste. Add turkey, cooked spaghetti, grated cheese and sherry. Place in large buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs if desired. Bake at 350 degree in the oven for 20 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

May your holiday season be joyous and blessed!
Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

See you on cyber Monday at!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feverfew - Herb-of-the-Week

Last week I focused on Tansy.  This week I wanted to focus on its cousin Feverfew.  Both are in the Tanacetum family and share a rather bitter taste, but unlike Tansy, whose medicial properties have fallen into disfavor, this herb is well documentd and studied for treament of migrines.

So the Herb of the Week this week is: Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

The medicinal properties of Feverfew were first recorded by Plutarch writing in 1st century Athens.  The Greek philosopher said that the plant was named parthenium after treatment with feverfew saved the life of a workman who fell from the Parthenon.  For many centuries herbalists recommended Feverfew, usually mixed with honey or sweet wine to mask the bitterness, was prescribed for various ills.  It was used as a treatment for stomach ills, toothaches, insect bites, and even women troubles according to Culpepper in his book the English Physician (1653).  But is most recognized value was for relief of headaches.  In fact in modern times it has been used for chronic migraine and rheumatism.  Studies have been done and it has been found to be relatively effective and safe remedy to migraines and other body and joint pains.

To Grow
A bushy, hardy perennial which can grow up to 3 feet high, Feverfew is bright-green, has pungently aromatic leaves and a mass of white daisy-like flowers with yellow centers in midsummer.  Originating in southern Europe it has been introduced all over the world now and is hardy to zone 5.  It will grow in any poor, well-drained soil and even tolerate drought.  You can propagate by seed sewn in spring or by cuttings or division in spring.  It will self-seed prolifically and can be seen as invasive.  There are golden and double-flowered varieties too.  The Golden is a slightly more compact variety.  It can grow in containers, but not indoors.

To Use
All parts of the leaves or flowering tops can be used both fresh and dried.  Feverfew lowers fevers and dilates blood vessels.  Fresh leaves are sometimes eaten to reduce the effects of migraine headaches.  If eaten it is best mixed with honey as the leaves are very bitter.   The young leaves can be added to salads, but sparingly. A dosage of no more than 3 to 5 leaves a day is recommended for treating pain and headaches.  Feverfew has a cumulative effect so it works best when taken in small does over longer periods, especially in treating migraines.  A decoction or infusion of the leaves is a mild disinfectant and the leaves when used in sachets make a good moth repellant.  The leaves, especially of golden varieties can be used in wreaths.

NOTE:  Do not self-medicate with feverfew.  It should not be taken by pregnant women, avoided by people with certain allergies to daisies, and not used by anyone taking blood-thinning drugs, as it can affect clotting rates.  The leaves can also cause mouth ulcers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Herbal Holiday Decorating Occasional Series (4 of 5)

This is the fourth in a series of blogs introducing you to ways of using herbs in your holiday.  We started with Scented Dough back in October, moved to a set of holiday recipes and gift ideas, detailed how to use cranberries for cooking and decorating and now I have a selection of scented items you can create at home, both for decorating and as gifts.

Rosemary Walnuts
I had to start with something edible, because tastes are always linked to the holidays.  This recipe is a twist on sugared nuts, giving you a savory recipe instead.
1 pound shelled walnuts
2 Tbls. of olive oil
2 Tbls. butter, melted
3 Tbls. minced fresh rosemary leaves
2 tsp. paprika
½ to 1 tsp.  salt or a salt substitute
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place all ingredients in a bowl and toss to mix.  Spread on a baking sheet large enough to hold the nuts in a single layer.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice or until the nuts are golden but not browned and the scent of rosemary fills the room.  Remove and cool.  May be eaten when warm or stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  Makes 2 cups.

Last night I found The Night the Grinch Stole Christmas on television, my husband, bless him, did not say a word about my watching it and sat silently on the couch as I recited all the lines over top of Boris Karloff and sang all the songs at the top of my lungs.  (The cats weren’t that generous!).  This movie is what I watch when I decorate my tree, it is a personal tradition started when I lived alone in Indianapolis after taking my first professional museum job back in… well never mind.  As soon as that show was on, I started thinking again about dragging out the decorations (I’d like to do it Friday, but Chas has other thoughts on this.  So instead, I decided I would make a few items to decorate with, as I make them I will put the up and it will be so gradual he won’t even notice!
Here is what I chose:
Scented Pine Cones
I will place a dozen or so in my trifle bowl and use it as a centerpiece.  They also look great stacked in a basket on the mantle.  From there you can even toss them into the fire for a crackle and scent.
      2 Tbls. orange peel
      1 1 /2 Tbls. orrris root
      1 Tbls. cinnamon pieces
      1 Tbls. Hibiscus flowers
      1 tsp. broken bay leaves
      10 drops cinnamon oil
      10 drops bergamot oil
      10 to 15 drops any other spice oils of your choice
      10 to 15 pine cones.
Mix together with pine cones in a zip lock bag shaking to cover.  Allow to meld as long as a week before using.

Herbal stars
Some woody herb branches have great scent, like sage, scented geraniums, and rosemary.  Strip the leaves off the stems trim them to length and bundle them together into a star shape with raffia or jute (4 sticks = 8 points).  You can also do this with cinnamon sticks.  I used scented geranium twigs for the pictures, but also made some with the rosemary I used to make the walnuts.

Hang Ornaments on Ribbon
I fill clear glass ornaments with pine needles, rosemary leaves, cinnamon chips and/or colorful herbs then hang them from ribbon in front of the window.  The window is large and faces the rising sun, so as the sun warms the bulb, it releases the scent.  It is marvelous to wake up to.  I saw once that someone put a wassail blend in ornaments this way. I am thinking about doing that this year, perhaps tonight!

Stove-top Simmers
Because of my husband’s aversion to evergreens, I try not to bring in too many, but I love the smell of pine.  As a substitute for that scent I will craft a spice mixture.  I find it a wonderful way to scent your home.  You can do it too.  Use commercial potpourri, or choose seasonal scents and make a simmer.  With a simmer you just set the herbs in a saucepan toward the back of the stove where the gentle heat will release the oils, or use an electric commercial potpourri pot or those with a candle underneath. 
To craft the simmer, combine herbs to equal about ½ cup dried herbs and add that to 2 cups water.
You can make your own blend with equal parts allspice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, gingerroot, whole cloves, and citrus peel.
You can add a few drops of essential oil to accent the aroma. This is where I get my pine scent from.  I use rosemary or pine oil in the simmer.   Keep an eye on the mixture to make sure all the water doesn’t simmer away or the herbs may burn (add more water as needed).

Orange Decorations
Yesterday I was in the grocery store and saw that the Clementines are in season.  These wonderful oranges are the ones used for making canned “Mandarin” oranges.
Oranges are a great holiday item and historic too.  Because of their scarcity they were always a special treat around the holidays and even used as part of gifts in the Victorian era.
 You can make a scented and colorful decoration using a few Clementines.  Just take Clementines and pierce them with wire adding several in a row to create a tower.  Then hang a bell or a bow at the end and hang it from your door knob.   It makes a unique decoration that welcomes guests with nice scent and unusual flair.
I hope you enjoy these scented additions to your holiday decorating and that you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving!

As always you will find all our herbal products at !

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top 10 Herbs to Cook With

Putting a few new flavor enhancers on your spice shelf will make meats and greens taste better and bring some welcome aromas to your kitchen.  And if living on a budget at your house means more home cooked meals, you can make the most of that crock-pot roast or stir fried veggie dish by adding a generous helping of herbs and spices. In that line of thinking I realized a list of herbs to have on hand, might be a great piece of information to share.
Every now and then I stay up way too late for someone who gets up at 5 AM and watch David Letterman because I love the top ten list.  So as a tribute to this style of top ten here is a countdown of herbs to use in your everyday cooking.
10. Thyme. This little herb can add depth of flavor to meat, chicken and egg dishes. It’s also great fresh or dry. Add a pinch to stews and soups for a stronger and more complex stock.
9. Rosemary. A must for lamb, rosemary is also a tasty accompaniment to potato dishes and strongly flavored meats. If you want to wake up your grilling, add a little fresh rosemary to the heating coals or use rosemary stems as kabob skewers.
8. Pepper. Okay pepper is actually a spice, but you can get lots of different varieties of pepper (Piper nigrum), but white, green and even red types are really just different stages or parts of the same fruit. For the best flavor regardless of the color, grind your own whole peppercorns. Here’s a hint: white pepper is very mild and won’t add black specks to your light colored sauces.

7. Chives. A colorful and easy way to get a little garlicky and oniony goodness into salads, potato or egg dishes, chives are easy to grow or locate fresh in your produce department. Once you’ve tried them snipped fresh, you’ll never resort to tasteless dried chives again.
6. Tarragon. With just a hint of licorice flavor, tarragon can transform fowl into a feast. For the best results, use French tarragon. Make up a marinade of tarragon, Dijon mustard, white wine and pepper. It’ll enliven your
 chicken and wake up your taste buds.
5. Parsley. Don’t scoff. Just because parsley is used as a garnish doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great flavoring for food. The best stocks and sauces use many ingredients to create deep, mouthwatering flavor. Parsley is one herb that works great with basic stock ingredients, like onions, celery and carrots. Add a little parsley to your favorite stovetop meals just before serving and you’ll see and taste the garden fresh difference.  It is a natural flavor enhancer so adding it with other herbs with make everything taste better.
4. Sage. Most commonly used in holiday stuffing, sage is a tasty herb to take advantage of all year long. Great in egg, fowl and vegetable medleys, a little sage goes a long way, so use restraint.
3. Cilantro. A must have for Oriental and Tex Mex recipes, cilantro will give your tacos, salsa and burritos authentic south-of-the-border flavor and flair. (Oh, cilantro also goes by the name coriander.) While you’re adding some Mex to your cooking, consider including a little cumin too.
2. Paprika. You may know it for its cheerful red color, but paprika comes in lots of varieties that can add heat and/or sweet to your recipes. Try a sweet Hungarian paprika in your next fried chicken batter and see.
And… the number ONE herb for your kitchen…
1. Garlic. You can love it or hate it, but garlic is the undisputed king of herbs. From fresh bulbs to jarred garlic paste and everything in between, you can find a neat way to add garlic to your cooking that’s flavorful as well as convenient. Don’t rely solely on garlic salt. Try some fresh minced garlic and enjoy the sweet undertones that garlic can give your mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.
All these single herbs are available from the Backyard Patch.  Remember when purchasing herbs for your kitchen use buy crumbled rather than ground herbs (the difference in shelf life is 9 months longer for dried versus ground).  Also store your herbs away from sunlight and heat from the oven (so take those jars down off the back of your stove top)!

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Book to Share - Great Winter Reading

I love to read books on growing and using herbs.  I have a huge list of books and this winter I will share my recommendations (I need to put the list into some thoughtful order before I share it).  However, in the spirit of holiday gift giving I thought I would share two great books I recently came across that I think make a perfect addition to the herbal bookshelf.

First is a book from Storey Publishing which is a great publisher of herb booklets and guides to using herbs from some very well-known herb writers and growers.  I love all the topics they have published including items by Bertha Reppert, Maggie Oster and Joyce Wardwell.  I wanted to focus your attention on a book by Rosemary Gladstar entitled Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.  This is a republishing and compiling of several publications by Ms. Gladstar that isl well worth reading.  As we enter the cold and flu season it might be a good time to look at herbs as a way of keeping ourselves healthy all the time and this book has many tools for doing just that.  Simple easy-to-follow recipes and years of knowledge flow out of its pages.  You can get yourself a copy here: Rosemary Gladstar's Herbs for Vibrant Health

Second is a publication I have not been able to put down since it came to my mailbox this week.  It is the newest book from The Essential Herbal magazine and editor Tina Sams, entitled By The Hearth.  This compilation excerpts articles from the Fall and Winter editions of the magazine's first five years, 2002-2006.  It is chocked full of great recipes, articles and herb-related observances that are too good to be overlooked.  From beginner to long-time enthusiast you will find something is this book to perk up your herbie mind!  And it is a smooth read.  I've skimmed it cover to cover twice and found something to delve into both times.  I have not read every article yet, but I have read many and there is not a bad one in the house.  With Thanksgiving approaching I just loved the feature on herb roasting a turkey for the first time.  I had to go update my website recipe of the month because of it. This wonderful book is available by contacting the Essential Herbal directly for The Essential Herbal By The Hearth.

Although I want to publish books on herbs (the only books I've done so far are cookbooks), my schedule and other responsibilities conflict with this endeavor, but as I gather my thoughts on herbs together in this blog, perhaps a book will be forthcoming.  Until then, enjoy these two wonderful publications instead.
     ~ Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tansy - Herb of the Week

This week’s Herb of the Week is Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Tansy is a well known older herb that was used as a strewing herb which means in medieval times it was strewn on the floor to be walked upon as it was believed the scent would clean and purify a home.  Historically Tansy was used for culinary purposes and many old recipes can be found in household receipt books (old recipe books.)  It was especially popular in puddings, cakes, and egg dishes.  It has a bitter flavor, but was still popular in cakes and puddings, especially those made with eggs and cream that were served on Easter Sunday.

This herb is found in many older plant texts like Thomas Tusser’s One hundred Points of Good Husbandry of 1577. What I found interesting about this herb was that newly written books still like to quote all the old books which detail its historical uses, like “I have heard that if maids will take wild Tansy and lay it to soake in Buttermilk for nine days and wash their faces therewith, it will make them look very faire.”  (James Braunschwyke, The Virtuose Boke of Distillacion 1527).

To grow
A perennial that spreads from the rhizome, Tansy is a tall herb growing as much as three to four feet in height.  It has dark green, feathery foliage which is pungently aromatic.  At the tops it will grow button-like bright yellow flowers in the summer.  It grows well in dry, stony soil preferring much sunlight.  You can grow it from seed, division or cutting.

To Use
Having a bitter flavor and insect-repellent properties, it is still commonly used in moth repelling sachets.  Historically it was taken internally for intestinal worms, but is not used medicinally much anymore as it is deemed to be toxic.  It is a good companion plants as it tends to ward off aphids.    

Despite a wealth of books giving cooking recipes using Tansy, it has an unpleasant bitter taste so is not commonly used this way anymore although historically it was used as a substitute for mint in sauce for lamb.

Please be aware that women who are pregnant are not supposed to eat anything with tansy.
The only recipes I could find were old ones, but I thought the first was fun and the second useful!

Tansy Pudding
  •   5 ounces of grated bread
  •   1 pint of milk
  •   5 eggs
  •   a little nutmeg
  •    juice of tansy and spinach, to your taste
  •   1/4 pound of butter
  •   some sugar
  •   a little brandy
  1. Put it in a saucepan, and keep it stirring on a gentle fire till thick.
  2. Then put it in a dish and bake it; when baked, turn it out, and dust sugar on it.
Source:  The Lady's Own Cookery Book (1844).

Moth Sachet

As mothballs are toxic, try this old fashioned, natural remedy to keep moths out of stored clothing, woolens and furs.

  • 1/2 cup each rosemary and mint
  • ¼ cup each tansy and thyme
  • 2 Tbls. powdered cloves
  1. Mix all together and put into organza or muslin bags that can often be found at hobby shops. Keeps moths away and fabrics smelling fresh.
The Backyard Patch makes moth repelling sachets with tansy and other herbs, if you are interested check out our e-store -

Every Wednesday  is Herb-of-the-Week day where  I feature a blog on a special herb, detailing its uses, growing habit and some recipes for using the herb.  As promised, not all herbs are truely culinary and this old-fashioned herb is definitely one whose uses are not for eating!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peppermint Oil, part 2

Peppermint Oil (part 2)
  1. Mint essential oil added to animal shampoo is a natural flea and tick repellent. Note: All mint oils should be kept away from eyes.
  2. Invaded by ants...spray mint or place a drop of oil on infested area and see how quickly your problems disappear!
  3. For beekeepers, marking hives with mint oil may assist the bees to return to hives.
  4. Douse a cotton ball in mint oil and place in mole hole. It’s worth a try to say good-bye to moles.
  5. For a fresh house, especially around Christmas time, simmer a few drops of essential oil in hot water on stove top. Be sure to use an older pot that you will not be using to cook with again.
  6. Mice are not fond of peppermint oil. If you want to keep mice away during the winter months, saturate cotton balls with oil and place in any areas where mice tend to enter, leave or congregate.
  7. Place spearmint or peppermint oil in a small dish and soak a cotton ball in the oil. Place the cotton ball in a closet or musty room to keep it smelling fresh and reduce aerial bacteria.  You can hang the ball in a muslin bag in your closet.
  8. Add a few drops of mint oil to 1/2 cup of baking soda for a sweet smelling deodorizer for your refrigerator.
  9. Peppermint is an excellent mild antiseptic and bacteria fighter.  Mix 10-15 drops of mint oil with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil and 12 ounces of water. Pour into a bottle with a spray pump. Spray in air ducts and around the house to kill bacteria and deodorize room.

Using Peppermint Leaves:
  1. Throw dried mint leaves on an open fire to fill the room with perfume. Place dried mint leaves, dried mandarin orange peels and 2-3 drops of mint oil in a small box. Throw a pinch on a fire as it dies down. The room will smell sweet in the morning and there will be no smell of old soot in the afternoon.’
  2. For the digestive system, peppermint is effective for a range of ailments, as it stimulates the gall bladder and the secretion of bile. Taken as a tea it is used for colic, cramps, dyspepsia, spastic colon, flatulence and nausea and can relieve pain in cases of toothache, aching feet, rheumatism, neuralgia, muscular pains and painful periods.
  3. Peppermint oil should not be used directly on the skin, blending it with a carrier oil works, or you can make a tea with the leaves and use that resulting liquid on your skin as the strength will be enough to treat the ailment but not as concentrated as the essential oil.   A tea can be used in all the following ways:
    1. On the skin, peppermint tea is used to relieve skin irritation and itchiness and also helps to reduce skin redness, where inflammation is present. It is used for dermatitis, acne, ringworm, scabies and pruritus and also relieves itching, sunburn and inflammation of the skin, while at the same time having a cooling action.
    2. Headaches.  Peppermint may ease headaches and migraines. Drink the tea at onset of a headache or apply to temple area in circular motion and across the forehead. For migraines, wet hair and put 4-5 teaspoons of tea into your hand and massage into the scalp.
    3. Sinus Problems.  Peppermint leaves are very useful in reducing sinus congestion when added to a bowl of steaming or boiling water. A rub made with carrier oil and essential oil can be applied to chest, back of neck area, and behind ears. A few drops of oil in a vaporizer at night will help ease congestion as well.
    4. Digestive System.  Peppermint leaves can help relax the muscles of the digestive tract to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Beyond drinking a tea after meals, you can add one drop of peppermint oil to a sugar cube for an emergency fix to relieve intestinal cramps.
    5. Relieve menstrual or abdominal cramps by drinking an 8 ounce glass of water infused with peppermint.  This can be an iced tea made by steeping a tsp. of peppermint leaves or stirring up 1 to 2 drops of oil into the water.  If you make regular tea you can also stir it with a toothpick dipped in peppermint oil.  Peppermint is also said to relieve Hot Flashes!
    6. A Peppermint tea is also effective at reliving a sore throat.  Blend peppermint leaves with horehound and/or  for additional benefits.
    7. Relieve congestion by placing mint leaves in a warm compress and lay on your chest.
IMPORTANT REMINDERS: Keep all oils out of the reach of children. Pregnant women should consult a physician before using any essential oil, but especially peppermint oil. Avoid all contact with eyes. Some people may be allergic to mint oil. This information is in no way intended as a substitute for medical consultation by a health care professional.
If you love the scent of Peppermint we at the Backyard Patch have made a wonderful bath soak with oil of peppermint that is only available in the winter.  To see this and our other bath salts, visit our e-store
By Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Yesterday I began this post with a list of 10 great uses for peppermint oil.  I am continuing that list today with 10 more uses for peppermint, including how to use the leaves in addition to the oil.  (To read yesterday's post too, click here.)
Just remember never apply essential directly to the skin always blend it with a carrier.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Peppermint Oil, part 1

Peppermint Oil
By Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
There are many essential oils that are used in bath items and aromatherapy blends.  The two most popular in my repituar are Lavender & Peppermint.  Now much has been written on Lavender and its uses for relaxation and stress reduction, but not as much is known about Peppermint, so I thought I would share some of my research with you.
Overview of Uses of Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint oil is excellent for mental fatigue and depression, refreshing the spirit and stimulating mental agility and improving concentration. It helps for apathy, shock, headache, migraine, nervous stress, vertigo and faintness and in general respiratory disorders, as well as dry coughs, sinus congestion, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis and cholera. Peppermint Oil is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal which gives it loads of medicinal uses!

Peppermint oil’s many, many uses (to be continued): 
  1. On muggy days add 2-3 drops of peppermint oil to 2 teaspoons sea salt and add to a warm bath to help your body cool down.
  2. Add 1-2 drops in shaving lotion for a close shave and fewer skin abrasions.
  3. Massage 1-2 drops of oil into a teaspoon of carrier oil of your choice into your scalp. The scent creates a soothing and calming effect. The mint oil stimulates blood supply to hair follicles and promotes the healing of skin abrasions on the scalp.
  4. Peppermint oil can dry oily skin and acne. Add 1-3 drops of peppermint oil to body wash or soap.  Or add it to witch hazel and apply by cotton swab directly to blemish or boil every 2 hours or as needed.
  5. Add a few drops of mint oil to the water of a humidifier or vaporizer to keep it smelling fresh and kill germs.
  6. Reduce swollen eyes in the morning by adding 1-2 drops of mint oil to 1/2 to 1 ounce of skin lotion; apply to cheekbone area.
  7. For staying awake and alert, apply mint oil (1 to 2 drops peppermint essential oil in 1 teaspoon carrier oil) to tip of each nostril and temple area.
  8. Peppermint oil is soothing to sore muscles when added to a hot bath. Mix 4 drops oil to sea salt or carrier oil. The carrier oil will help disperse the essential oil through the water for an even affect.
  9. Use this to soothe arthritis pain as well.  In addition to a bath, you can mix 4-5 drops of oil into 1 ounce of lotion and/or massage carrier oil to rub into angry joints.
  10. Treat your feet by applying peppermint oil mixed with a carrier oil to relieve swollen feet and help reduce and assist in healing blisters, cuts, or athlete's foot by killing bacteria.

There are 10 more wonderful tips for using Peppermint oil and some suggestions about what to do with peppermint leaves too, coming tomorrow.  Stop back!

IMPORTANT REMINDERS: Keep all oils out of the reach of children. Pregnant women should consult a physician before using any essential oil, but especially peppermint oil. Avoid all contact with eyes. Some people may be allergic to mint oil. This information is in no way intended as a substitute for medical consultation by a health care professional.
If you love the scent of Peppermint we at the Backyard Patch have made a special fizzing bath salt this season scented with peppermint oil.  Fuzzy Santa Salts are available online here!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Three Secrets to Storing Your Tea

Tea acts much like baking soda when it is around other aromatic foods and beverages. Because of this, it absorbs everything aromatic much like a tiny magnet. Except, unlike baking soda, you want your tea to avoid absorbing everything around it. 

How Do I Prevent My Tea from Absorbing Stray Flavors and Scents? 
To keep your tea fresh and flavorful, you need to store it properly. When looking for an ideal storage container, remember you need it to be airtight, to keep tea dry and in the dark.

The Most Important Thing is to Keep Your Tea in an Airtight Container
By using an airtight container, you automatically prevent any outside elements from contaminating your tea. This is simply because of the fact that if nothing can penetrate the container, then nothing can be absorbed by the tea. Let's assume you kept your tea in a spice drawer. As we both know, when you open your spice drawer it smells, obviously, like spices. Without an airtight container, all those smells would be absorbed by the tea changing its aroma and flavor. 

Flavor isn't the Only Thing you Have to Worry About
Another enemy of tea is moisture. Since tea is almost always kept in some type of container, even a little bit of moisture can cause mold to grow on your tea. Mold loves to grow in moist enclosed areas. To prevent this you need to make sure your tea stays dry. 
This is actually pretty easy. Just make sure you don't keep your tea in any damp area of your house. One of the biggest offenders of this rule is your refrigerator. Because the way refrigerators cool themselves, they keep cycling extremely cold air. This cycling can cause moisture to build up in your tea container, which then causes mold.

Light Can Also be an Enemy
Many people also believe that direct sunlight can degrade the taste of your tea. The theory is that the UV rays in light will break down the polyphenols in tea, thus reducing the flavor. This is one theory that, in my opinion, is still debatable. But if you want to be safe, make sure your tea storage container is not clear. If you want to use a clear container make sure you keep it out of direct sunlight. 

Are All of these Steps Necessary? 
In my opinion, yes. But it is not as hard as it sounds. All you have to do is find a tin or other container that has an airtight lid. After that, just keep the tea in your pantry, a drawer, a cabinet or even your countertop as long as there is no direct sunlight.  I have used recycled glass jars because the lids seal tightly and placed them in my cabinet.  My cabinets are dark so the jar does not need to be.  I will stuff zip seal bags of similar teas into the jar, loose tea bags, and many times tea in the bottom of the jar. 
I can be irreverent with my tea, but when you drink it everyday both at the beginning and end of the day, you just want it handy and this method does that while protecting my tea from the other foods stored in those same cabinets.
If you want to try out a selection of the Backyard Patch’s more than 22 different herbal teas, or several of our dozen or more black or green teas blended with herbs, see our Tea Samplers available online.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zaatar Bread the perfect way to use out-dated herbs!

Dried herbs and spices do have a shelf life.  As much as I want them to last forever and I use a drying method that lengthens their life, eventually you reach the end of useful life.  For most dried and crumbled herbs that is between 12 and 18 months.  For powdered herbs they lose flavor in as short as three months.  Spices as in seeds, barks, or their ground counterparts will last a bit longer.  Ground spices will keep 2 to 3 years, but whole nuts (like nutmeg) or seeds and bark can keep indefinitely, but should be checked.  If it has no scent it will have no flavor left.
I will never forget the time I tossed out all the dried herbs in my mother’s spice rack most of which were older than I was because the spice rack was a wedding gift.  She was furious, but I was adamant, they were not more flavoful than grass clippings!  I suggested refilling the jars with newly mowed grass.  I am still paying for that comment by providing her with herbs to this day. 

If you, like my mother, can't part so easily with your aging herbs, I have a solution for you.  Here is a recipe to use up your about-to-expire green herbs to make tasty Zaatar bread.

A Zaatar Blend is mostly green herbs with ground sumac and toasted sesame seeds added mixed with olive oil and used as a spread for pita or flat bread. The taste is very nutty. This is a feel-good dish to make for others -- you'll use up outdated spices and make enough to share with friends.  You can serve it with tea or dark wine and enjoy it with long conversations around a communal plate.

Recipe for Zaatar Bread
(or any green herbs or spices that are on their last legs)
ground sumac
Toasted sesame seeds, ground
Olive Oil
1 Tbls. lemon peel or zest of one lemon
  1. Grab a cookie sheet, cover it with sesame seeds, toast them in the oven on 350 degrees until lightly brown. 
  2. Grab a medium to large bowl. Dump in all of your dried green herbs and spices that have reached the end of their life cycle. The varied amounts are fine. Just mix them all together. 
  3. Remove seed from oven, cool them, then crush seeds with a pestle in a small bowl.
  4.  Combine with green herbs.
  5.  Add olive oil, enough to create a paste out of the herbs. It shouldn't be dry, but not too thin.
  6.  Sprinkle on a tsp of sumac if you have some on hand.
  7. Add the zest of one lemon to the bowl.
  8. Spread the resulting mixture on pita or flat bread pieces, and bake or broil until heated through (350 degrees for 6 to 9 minutes).
Serve with a good Chai tea and have a great evening with friends or family.

Once you’ve used all your old herbs to make this recipe you can replenish with our fresh from the garden herbs at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Herb of the Week - Mexican Oregano

Well after skipping a keep last week, the Herb-of-the-Week is back and this time we are featuring:

Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens)

Mexican oregano—also called orégano in Spanish—a member of the Verbenaceae, or verbena family. Little known in North America, this "oregano" is a great acquisition for plant collectors and herb gardeners alike.

Though not a true oregano, Mexican oregano is native to Mexico, as well as Guatemala and parts of South America. A somewhat ungainly shrub, it grows up to five feet tall and wide in its native climate. Its brittle branches are very narrow, stiffly arching, and arranged in a seemingly haphazard manner. (The plant responds extremely well to pruning, so consider espaliers or topiaries as alternatives to the natural zigzag form). Its dark green, highly fragrant, corrugated foliage is minuscule—about 1/3-inch long by 1/8-inch wide. Tiny, starry-white flowers are borne intermittently throughout the year in the leaf axils.

Although a trifle difficult to find commercially as the interest in ethic foods increases you find it in more and more garden centers and nursries.  The seed is also available.

To Grow
Mexican oregano couldn't be easier to cultivate. Full sun, heat, and fertile, well-drained soil are all the plant requires. Average moisture is just fine. Lippia graveolens is hardy in USDA Zones 10 and 11. Gardeners in Zone 9 might risk it outside all year, but heavy, cool, wet winter soils will be its demise. In Zone 5 here in Illinois you can try Mexican oregano as a container specimen outdoors in warm weather and overwintered indoors in a greenhouse or south-facing windowsill. Indoors it will relish the same conditions as bay or rosemary—cool temperatures and fresh, circulating air. Watch for spider mites, whiteflies, and mealy bugs. Propagation is a breeze from ripe tip cuttings.  I have a tendency to grow it as an annual and then take cuttings late in the season to grow inside for winter, taking new cuttings in time to move the plant outdoors.

To Use
Mexican oregano has a sweetness and intensity that many gourmets prefer to the flavor of the true European or Mediterranean species. The leaves are a wonderful flavoring for fish, meatballs, sausage, tomato sauces, or any recipe requiring a strong oregano essence. Trim off some of the plant's thicker branches and utilize them as flavor-enhancing skewers for seafood or poultry shish kebobs or vegetable brochettes. Whole branches can be strewn over hot charcoal to impart a fantastic taste to grilled foods.
In its native Mexico, the herb is sometimes called té de pais ("country tea"), because the dried leaves are brewed into an herbal tea. It is also employed in salsas, pozole (Mexican-style hominy soup, usually prepared with pork), adobos (strongly flavored Mexican seasoning pastes), and rajas (roasted and seasoned chile strips used as filling for tortillas or quesadillas or as a base for more complex dishes).

Here are a couple recipes to try with it.  You can substitute regular oregano if you want to try the recipe but do not have any Mexican Oregano.


Mexican Rice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup ground pork
  • 1/4 pound chorizo (Mexican sausage), halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock, or water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh Mexican oregano leaves  (use ½ tsp. dry)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves  (use 1 tsp. dry)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring until no longer pink. Add the sausages and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add the onions and bell peppers, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Then add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Stir in the tomatoes  and cook  for 1 minute. Add the stock, salt, and saffron, and stir well. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low, cover, and cook undisturbed until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Add the oregano and cilantro, and stir to incorporate.  Turn into a decorative bowl and garnish with the green onions. Serve immediately.

Mexican Meat Ball soup
Studded with zucchini, corn, and tomatoes, our brothy soup is comforting, especially on chilly evenings. Oregano flavors both the liquid and the meatballs.
Yield: 4
  • tablespoon  vegetable oil
  • small red onion, chopped
  • jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
  • zucchini (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  dried Mexican oregano, or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Mexican oregano
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • quart canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • cups  water
  • 1 1/2  cups  drained canned diced tomatoes (one 15-ounce can)
  • 1 1/4  teaspoons  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2  pound  ground beef
  • cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2  tablespoons  dry bread crumbs
  • egg, beaten to mix
  • cup  fresh (cut from about 2 ears) or frozen corn kernels
  • tablespoon  lime juice
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and half the jalapeños and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini,1 1/2 teaspoons of the dried oregano, if using, and 1/4 teaspoon of the cumin and cook, stirring, until the zucchini starts to soften, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, salt, and black pepper; bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes.

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