Monday, January 31, 2011

Herbs to Enhance a Diet

Dieting resolution getting you down already?  Could it be that you are thinking in order to be low-cal it has to be bland and boring?  Here are a few tips to liven up the diet plan using herbs!
1. Variety is the spice of life, and it’s good for you, too. Variety means good nutrition. Instead of the same old apple, orange and pear, try a mango, a kiwi fruit or a persimmon (fruits that are unfamiliar to your taste buds, but commonly found in grocery stores nationwide). Different foods contain different nutrition, so it’s best to eat a variety.
2. Try a food that you’ve never tried before. If you see chicken on your meal plan, try Cornish hen instead. Instead of tuna fish, make a sandwich with canned salmon. Use low-fat mayonnaise or even nonfat yogurt instead of full-fat mayo. Try some mustard mixed with the mayo… it will make your “regular” sandwich more interesting.  Or even better, try an herbal mustard, like this one:
Herbed Mustard
2 C. prepared hearty mustard
1 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1 tsp. dried basil, crumbled
1 Tbs. dried tarragon, crumbled
1/4 C. herb or white wine vinegar

Pour mustard into large mixing bowl. Add the herbs and mix. Gradually stir in vinegar. Place in a covered jar and refrigerate for a couple days for flavors to blend.
Yield: 2 cups  Great on sandwiches, as a baste on fish or chicken or even as a pretzel dip.

3. Try a smoothie. A sweet smoothie is a great way to get a serving of fruit and nonfat dairy into your day — and it’s delicious! Whip up a cup of nonfat milk and one-half cup of nonfat yogurt in a blender with some crushed ice and one-half banana, or a cup of berries. You can add a little sugar or honey (approximately 20 calories per teaspoon) if you choose.

Herbed Smoothie
1/2 cup frozen fruit of your choice
1/2 cup fresh fruit of choice
3/4 cup milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, etc.
1/2 cup herbal tea or green tea
1 scoop protein powder of choice
1 tsp. honey
Mint leaves or fresh orange slices (optional)
  1. I use frozen fruit in place of ice cubes in my smoothies because it builds a richer flavor. You can choose any fruit, herbs and protein powder that you like. My favorite smoothie combination includes frozen strawberries, fresh banana, soy milk, vanilla whey protein and green tea.
  2. Add all of the ingredients in order to the blender. Doing this will help prevent clumping when it's time to blend.
  3. Pulse for several minutes until the smoothie is well blended. If it's too thick, add a touch more milk or milk substitute and blend until smooth.
  4. Pour into a glass and garnish with mint leaves or fresh orange slices if you like. Or pour into a large, reusable coffee cup.

4. Eat more often. If you’re not succeeding on your weight-loss plan this week, try breaking your meals out into mini-meals, and eat every two to three hours to maintain your energy and to avoid hunger.

5. Eat breakfast. And lunch! And dinner! Skipping meals will backfire, and your metabolism will suffer for it. Your meals don’t have to be large! A serving high-fiber cereal and nonfat or low-fat milk and a piece of whole fruit will provide protein, carbohydrates and a little fat. This will give you energy to replenish your body from the previous night’s “fast.” Eat breakfast for dinner and lunch for breakfast. If you’re bored with your routine, challenge yourself to a new experience. There’s no rule that you have to eat the same way every day. Have your breakfast meal in the evening, and enjoy your dinner meal at lunch. You won’t be bored!

Or have a fist full of home-made granola.  Here is a recipe a friend shared with me.

Homemade Granola
 3 cups rolled oats
 1 cup wheat germ
 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
 1/2 cup raisins
 1/2 cup dried cranberries
 1/4 cup sesame seeds
 1/4 cup maple syrup
  2 tablespoons molasses
 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
Transfer to a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Bake, turning often with a spatula, until mixture is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Tastes great with fresh fruit as a topping.

6. Are you bored with water? Try some brewed herbal teas, without caffeine, on ice. Keep a 20-ounce water bottle with you in your car, at your desk or in your shoulder bag. Sometimes you may think you’re hungry, but you may actually be thirsty! Try drinking a cup of water, then re-evaluate!

Here is a recipe for an herbal tea I enjoy in the afternoon.  It can be served warm or iced and I love to sip it while at work.

Lemon Verbena & Lavender Tea
1 cup lemon verbena leaves
3 Tbls lavender flowers

Mix the herbs thoroughly, and store in an air tight container. For a cup of tea, use 1 tsp in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and strain out the leaves. Enjoy with a bit of honey.

7. Try soy. If you haven’t tried tofu, you haven’t tried one of the most nutritious and delicious foods around. Tofu is a versatile food that takes on the flavors you cook it with. Instead of chicken, try a stir-fry of extra firm tofu, garlic, sesame oil and vegetables.  Soy is a great item to blend with herbs as it can enhance the flavor.

Scrambled Tofu (easy and so tasty you don’t know its tofu!)
1 carton soft tofu
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
¼ teaspoon turmeric or curry powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, basil, or marjoram
2 tablespoons snipped chives or finely sliced scallions
½ cup grated Cheddar, Muenster, goat, or feta cheese

1. Drain the tofu, wrap it in a towel, and press while you gather the rest of the ingredients.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a medium skillet. When hot, crumble the tofu into the pan in pieces about the size of scrambled-egg curds. Sprinkle with the turmeric, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until dry and firm (but not hard), for 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Add the herbs and cheese, taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a dash of paprika over the top for color.

If your resolution was to eat better or less or even to diet, always incorporate herbs because if you enhance the flavor you enjoy the calories you eat more and are satisfied sooner which will cut down on cravings!  To see the full line of herb seasonings and herb teas check out our website  You’ll find more recipes there too!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blueberrry Pancakes

According to the broad definition of an herb, Blueberry is an herb.  That is of course if you use the definition of any plant where the leaves, stems, roots or fruits have edible, medicinal or aromatic uses.
I don’t always use quite that broad a definition, but since January 28th is National Blueberry Pancake Day, I thought what the heck.  Besides my husband is an amazing chef and his blueberry pancakes are to die for.  So In honor of the day, here is his herbal blueberry pancake recipe.
Herbal Blueberry Pancakes
(As an added bonus according to Annishinabe tradition, this should treat madness!)

2 Cups all purpose flour
2 Tbls. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 – 2 cups fresh blueberries
1 3/4 cups milk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 Tbls. lemon herb butter
3 Tbls. fennel infused herb oil (separated)
1 whole egg, slightly beaten

Start with a medium size bowl, sift together, flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.  Combine with milk, butter, egg, 2 Tbls. fennel oil and vanilla extract. Do not over mix the pancakes or they will become heavy.  Add the washed blueberries, stir.

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, brush with herb oil.  When oil is hot, pour about ¼ cup of batter for each pancake onto hot skillet.  Brown on one side, when bubbles appear it is time to flip.  Then brown other side. Serve with warm blueberry or maple syrup.

To make fennel infused oil, just take 3 Tbls. Oil and heat in the microwave for 2 minutes.  Then pour the warm oil over ¼ tsp. bruised fennel seeds and let sit for 15 minutes.  Strain and use the oil.
To make lemon butter, you can use lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon thyme, lemon verbena or a combination of those herbs.  Blend 2 tsp.dry herbs with 1 tsp. Lemon juice.  Let sit for a minute, then blend into 1 stick of softened butter.  Allow to meld a bit before using.  (Can be made in advance and frozen.)
If you want to make pancakes the easy way, the Backyard Patch has a pancake mix you can use instead.  Check it out online:  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Herb Garden Planning - How to read a seed catalog

Last week I gave you a list of print and online herb catalogs to look at and this week I thought I would help with some tips for reading those catalogs too!  Gardening catalogs contain more information than pictures and prices.  In fact if you follow this sort guide, you can learn the keywords and symbols found in seed catalogs and enhance your gardening experience.
Late winter and early spring is when attentions turn to the business of planning and planting. I am instantly reminded it is time, when the seed catalogs start arriving. I then get out the garden planning journal, look over my notes from previous years and lose myself in the pictures and descriptions.  However, this is usually the first place I make a mistake, because getting caught up in those wonderful images and descriptions of taste often results in buying too much or the wrong plant for my garden. So what I wanted to do was save you the hassle of making the same mistakes I have with a bit of information about the books you are delving into.
Don't Judge a Seed by Its Picture
The first thing that grabs your attention when you open a seed catalog is the pictures, especially if they are in color. What you need to remember when looking at these wonderful color pictures is that they represent the best of the best. The herbs, flowers and vegetables shown in the pictures were more than likely grown in the best conditions, with the very best of care. And, the photographer may have searched through hundreds of tomatoes to find the one that she finally took a picture of. Your results will vary, depending on the weather and the amount of time you spend working in your garden.
Words and Symbols are Clues
If you make it past the pictures to the actual item description, you may run across words and information that also need some translating.  The plant description is the place you go to determine if this is the plant you want.  It should include the variety name and the growing time, from sowing or transplanting to harvest or maturity.  Look carefully at the words used, as they can provide insight into what to expect during the growing season.  For example:
  • Vigorous: This plant will want to take over your garden if you let it.
  • Compact: Perfect for small gardens or container gardening.
  • Early: This plant is perfect for climates that have a short growing season or for gardeners that like to use different varieties to extend their harvest.
  • Hardy: Will usually survive over winter or self sow.
  • New: This variety has not been offered before.
  • Pelleted: Some catalogs offer pelleted seed to help make sowing small seeded plants easier. The coat the seed in a clay medium so it is larger and easier to see.  However once treated the seed will last only one season so don’t save them for next year.
You will also learn if the seed is disease tolerant, and if so, which diseases they are tolerant of. Other information unique to the variety of plant is included in the description.
Some of my favorite catalogs use a little symbol system to show zone, annual vs. perennial, organic, sun vs. shade and other tidbits you want to know about every plant, so you can scan the listings more quickly and leave out those that would never grow where you live.  Most of these types of symbols are unique to the company catalog, so look for a key toward the beginning of the catalog or long the bottom of facing pages, which will explain how they use their symbols. I also enjoy catalogs that slip in growing tips and recipes, so don’t overlook the little articles and information they tuck into the pages.  This year Nichols’ Garden Nursery catalog has the story of Turnip the Cat.
Read Before You Seed
All in all, by spending a little time reading your seed catalog, you will discover a wealth of information, some of which you may not have known before.  I credit seed catalogs with great improvements in my early gardening, because they gave height and shape information that helped me plan more space than my gardening books suggested.  Plus if you read carefully you avoid buying too much seed or the wrong seed for your climate conditions or season length.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Herb Garden Planning - Seed Catalogs

The seed and garden catalogs have just started to come in and I am studiously getting ready for the next season.  It is still a bit early to plant any seed (even indoors) in Illinois, so I thought I would share some of my favorite seed producers and you can start planning too!
I have used all of these catalogs at one time or another.  Some I like to use every year, like Seeds of Change and Nichol's Garden Nursery, others I use when I am looking to put in a theme patch or try something new, those times I look to Garden Madicinals & Culinaries or Crimson Sage.  Sometimes it is better to start with a smaller offering like Renee's Garden and Prairieland Herbs then work up to those that offer hundreds of varieties.  I shop for plants locally in Illinois at the Oak Park Conservatory Herb Sale becasue I like to touch and buy plants, but when it comes to seeds I look at reputation and speedy delivery.  All of these places have that.
Richters Herbs
Richters is a fantastic herb nursery that is located in Goodwood, Ontario, which is approximately 30 minutes NE of Toronto, CANADA. Their greenhouses and gift shop are open to visits by the public. Visit their website to request a copy of their free catalog by mail or view the complete catalog online.
Richter's sells a variety of herb seeds, herb plants, herb books, dried herbs, herbal extracts and aromatherapy products. Many of the plants, such as arnica, bloodroot, comfrey, ginkgo, licorice and belladonna are hard to find at the average gardening center. Their plants are available individually, in 12 plant plug packs and in 120 plant plug trays for the serious grower.
Sandy Mush Herb Nursery
Sandy Mush is located in western North Carolina, approximately 23 miles NW of Asheville. They are open to the public, in season, Thursday through Saturday, but they suggest calling ahead to verify someone is there and to get specific directions.
Their catalog can be viewed online or sent through the mail at a cost of $4. Sandy Mush sells over 2,000 varieties of plants including traditional culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, scented geraniums, perennials, trees and shrubs along with a selection of herb seeds and books.
Mountain Valley Growers
Mountain Valley Growers, which is located in Squaw Valley, CA, specializes in USDA certified organic herbs and perennials. Their 40 page catalog can be downloaded from their website or a free copy can be sent by mail upon request. Mountain Valley offers a great selection of herbs, perennials and vegetable plants along with an assortment of books, gardening supplies and hydroponic equipment.
Crimson Sage is an USDA certified organic nursery located in Orleans, CA. They offer an extensive line of Ayurvedic, Native American and Traditional Chinese Medicinal herbs for sale. They charge $1 for their 80-page catalog, to help cover the cost of postage, or it can be downloaded for free on their website.
Well-Sweep Herb Farm
Well-Sweep Herb Farm, which is located in Port Murray, NJ, is open from Monday through Saturday in-season. Visit the farm to view their display gardens, or shop for unique gifts in the gift shop. Their 84-page catalog can be viewed online, or request a free copy by mail. Well-Sweep offers a variety of herbs, flowering perennials, dried flowers, gardening supplies and aromatherapy products for sale.
Horizon Herbs
Horizon Herbs, located in William, OR, offers medicinal and USDA certified organic herb seeds and plants for sale. Co-owner Richo Cech, is a prolific author of many herb books, DVD’s and audiotapes, which can be purchased through the website. View the catalog online or request a copy through the mail.
Garden Medicinals & Culinaries
Garden Medicinals, which is located in Earlysville, VA, offers a great mixture of medicinal and culinary herbs along with a selection of heirloom vegetables and flowers. Garden Medicinals does not have a print catalog, it can only be viewed online.
Territorial Seed Company
Territorial Seed Company carries many varieties of herb, vegetable and flowering plants and seeds, along with some gardening supplies. Request a copy of their free catalog or order products through their online shopping cart.
Territorial products are available at select retailers in Alaska, Washington, California, Oregon and Virginia. The Territorial Seed company store, located in Cottage Grove, OR, is open to the public.
Seeds of Change
All of the Seeds of Change seeds are USDA certified organic; they also have a selection of organic seedlings and books available. Request a free copy of either their gardening catalog, or their professional growers catalogs. There herb offerings are somewhat limited, but they have all the starting gardener will want and more.  Online ordering is available through their website.
Goodwin Creek Gardens
Goodwin Creek’s nursery center is open Fridays and Saturdays, from March through September. Request a copy of their free print catalog offering herb plants, seeds and books. Goodwin Creek, located in Williams, OR, offers a fantastic selection of medicinal, culinary and Native American plants along with plants that will attract birds and butterflies to your herb garden.
Sand Mountain Herbs
Sand Mountain Herbs was founded by outdoor enthusiast and native plant expert Larry W. Chandler of Geraldine, Alabama.  He has vast knowledge of the medical values of herb plants from around the world including North Alabama. They have an online seed catalog that you can puruse and the list is extensive.  Sorted by common name, it then provides scientific names so you know you are ordering what you really want.  When you click the link it shows a photo and detailed growing info including hardiness zone.  You can order easily online.
Prairieland Herbs  www.
Located in Woodward, IA the catalog is only available online, but you can print your own pdf version of it.  Prairieland Herbs is a mother-daughter team, Donna Julseth and Maggie Julseth Howe.  A small business, they have great quality and know their herbs.  They started Prairieland Herbs as an official, full-time business in September, 1998 and by July, 1999 they moved into a renovated shop where they offer classes.  The shop is open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays, 12-5 CST.
Nichols Garden Nursery
Nichols Garden Nursery has served home gardeners for more than 60 years, making it one of the oldest herb suppliers in the US. Still a family run business specializing in fine food gardening.   They are an original signer of the Safe Seed Pledge and offer no genetically modified seeds or plants. They are adjusting their offerings as a result of the pledge so seed names are changing a little. An online catalog as well as a paper catalog can be requested. Visitors to the gardens in Albany, OR are always welcome during regular business hours.  In addition to herb and vegetable plants and seeds, they have a nice variety of herb related gardening items, including lotions, soap, cheese and wine making supplies.
Renee’s Garden Seeds
If you’ve been gardening long enough to remember Sheppard’s Seeds, this is the same person.  Specializing in flower, herb and vegetable seed and located in Felton, CA, Renee's Garden offers varieties that are great for home gardeners, based on flavor, easy culture and exceptional performance.  Strong supporters of sustainable farming practices they do not sell treated or GMO seeds and have signed the Safe Seed Pledge developed by The Council for Responsible Genetics.   Retail resale of seeds is also available. Not a huge variety of seeds, but all of good quality and her two cookbooks, also available on the site are great.  I have owned both for many years and use them all the time.
Companion Plants

Companion Plants is an internationally recognized herb nursery established in 1982 and located in the scenic rolling hills just outside Athens, Ohio. They started with 30 varieties and now offer over 600 varieties of common and exotic herb plants including medicinal, culinary, ceremonial, aromatic, butterfly, fiber, and dye plants as well as over 200 varieties of seed, most of which they grow ourselves using environmentally friendly methods.  The catalog is available online and sorted by name and topic.  Customers are invited to come visit the greenhouses Thursday through Sunday between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm from March 1 to October 31, and stroll through the 2 acres of display/production beds containing dozens of varieties of Thyme, Salvia, Rosemary and Basil, as well as native medicinal plants and wildflowers interplanted with their cousins from around the world.

The Thyme Garden Herb Company
Also located in Oregon, this place has been around since 1990.  Their catalog offers 650 varieties of herbs as well as dried herbs, teas, spices and seasonings. Catalogs include interesting folklore. You can also visit to see the display gardens.  I can’t resist a place that knows the value of Thyme!  They sell 6 different varieties of thyme seed and some creeping varieties by the pound for making a lawn.
Later this month I will discuss how to read seed catlogs and how to start seed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Herb of the Week - Popcorn!!

Today’s herb of the week is POPCORN --
Okay Popcorn is stretching it a bit, but today is National Popcorn Day and I thought instead of an herb of the week we could celebrate one of my favorite foods by talking about great recipes that you can use instead of salt to flavor popcorn.
Popcorn or 'popping corn,' is corn which expands from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Corn is able to pop because, unlike other grains, its kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and a dense starchy filling. This allows pressure to build inside the kernel until an explosive "pop" results. Some strains of corn are now cultivated specifically as popping corns.
Popcorn was first discovered thousands of years ago by Native Americans in the Southwest, United States. One of the oldest forms of corn, evidence of popcorn from 3600 B.C. was found in New Mexico.
The popularity Popcorn now enjoys is a result of two events in history.  During the Great Depression, popcorn was comparatively cheap at 5-10 cents a bag. Thus, while other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived and became a source of income for some struggling farmers. During World War II, sugar rations diminished candy production, causing Americans to eat three times more popcorn than they had before.
Where I am from, Illinois, Popcorn is the official snack food of the state and (although no the only town to claim this) Ridgeway, Illinois says it is the "Popcorn Capital of the World."
Popcorn is usually served salted or sweetened. In North America, it is traditionally served salted, although sweetened versions, such as caramel corn and kettle corn, are also commonly available.
In a health conscious America we are trying to enjoy the fiber-rich nature of Popcorn without the fattening additives, so we have turned to herbs to provide a bit of flavor without the calories of butter or sugar.
Here are a few blends for you to try.  If you want a great combo add a bit of parmesan cheese to any of these blends:

Garlic Infused Shaker
2 tablespoons basil
2 tablespoons Thyme
2 tablespoons Marjoram
2 tablespoons garlic powder
Blend together and shake onto hot popcorn.  It can be ground in small batches in a food processor for a finer shake.

Hot Shaker
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
dash red pepper flakes
Blend together and shake onto hot popcorn.  It can be ground in small batches in a food processor for a finer shake.

Herby Shaker
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon savory
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp onion powder

Blend together and shake onto hot popcorn.  It can be ground in small batches in a food processor for a finer shake.

And if making your own popcorn seasoning is not your thing, the Backyard Patch has a ready-made seasonings that are great on Popcorn, just click here to see a full description of our Salt Substitutes. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter Games - Indoor Herbal Bean Bags

Okay it has been cold and wintry and dark for two months.  Winter came early this year in the Midwest so by now I am dying for activities.  I am planning my garden, ordering my plants, but that is all passive, I need something to DO!  And if you have kids around the house, they probably do too!

So here is a great idea.  Make some herbal bean bags.  You can place an herbal mixture with the beans and the scent they give off as you throw them around can lift your spirits as well as give you something active to do, both the making and the using.

Steps to make Herbal Bean Bags:

  1. Cut a piece of cotton fabric into 7-inch by 7-inch square.  Then fold in half, wrong-side out.  Stitch along three of the edges using very small stitches.
  2. Turn the bag inside out and fill half-full with beans (such as kidney or lentils.)  Add 2 tablespoons of dried (not powdered) herbs.
  3. Finally, turn under the edges of the open end and sew the bag closed using very small stitches.

Games to play:

1.                  Draw a circle on a piece of paper and stand with your back to it.  Toss the bean bag over your shoulder to see if you can get it into the circle.  Fun to play with three bean bags to see if you can get all three in or in competition to see who can get the most in.
2.                  Set up paper towel or toilet paper rolls and play 9 pins by tumbling the bean bag into them.
3.                  Bowls are a bit tougher a target.  Cereal bowls or paper bowl that you must land in perhaps several in a row like Bozo buckets could all be fun and improve eye-hand coordination too!
4.                  Now I am not recommending breaking the house, but you can also suspend a ring (like a hula hoop) from the ceiling and toss beanbags through it.

Have fun!
Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bath Herbs for Winter Blahs

The other day I introduced the idea of making an herbal bath with some information on herbs to use in them and their wonderful herbal properties to enjoy (click here to see that blog).  I want to expand on that a bit today with more information on blending the herbs for a bath and how to use them.
Many times baths are a nice change from showers, but if you are using this change for just a quick "wash-up," remember that they can be a relaxing and therapeutic experience if savored!
In times past the herbal bath was held in great regard, and in many cultures the bath was so important that social institutions were built around it. Herbs used in these baths were chosen depending on the benefits derived from them. In Rome the bath waters were scented, but also disinfected, by tossing lavender into them. Catherine the Great had scouts traveling about in Europe and the Far East searching for herbs that would be beneficial skin tonics in her baths.

Adding herbs to the bath can be done in a couple of ways. Simply prepare a strong infusion of the herbs of your choosing. To make an infusion add about ½ cup herbs to 1 to 2 cups water and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and add about 1 cup to the bath water. You can also place a handful of herbs into a muslin bag with a long drawstring. Tie the string to the water tap and let the water flow through the bag as you fill the tub. Let the bag steep in the water and do its job as you relax and enjoy. To get some extra benefits from the herbs, scrub a bit with the bag.

As an added option when preparing your bath bags, mix an equal amount of oatmeal (not the quick kind) with the herbs. This will soften the water and soothe the skin. Milk is also soothing to the skin. Mix some powdered milk with your herbs when making up the bags. Chamomile or calendula added to the milk will make skin especially soft.
Other ways to enjoy the addition of herbs to the bath are using an herb vinegar, herbal oil, or bath salts. Herb vinegar is excellent for softening the skin and it helps get rid of dry flaky, itchy skin. Bath salts soften the water and can be therapeutic when made with bicarbonate of soda, which neutralizes the acids of the skin. Essential oils added to a carrier oil make a fragrant and relaxing bath.
Some ideas for bath blends:
Herbs for relaxation: Chamomile, calendula, comfrey, lavender
Stimulating herbal baths: Rosemary, peppermint, sweet marjoram, parsley
Soothing bath herbs: Calendula, comfrey, catnip, rose, yarrow
Try some of the following recipes, or experiment and see what you like the most. You will feel like you are visiting a healing spa!

Soothing Citrus Bath Blend
1-1/2 cups chamomile
1-1/4 cups comfrey
3/4 cups jasmine flowers
1-1/4 cups lemon balm
1-1/4 cups orange peel
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Use a handful in a bath bag for each bath.
Calming and Warming Bath Blend
1 cup rosemary
1 cup lavender
1/2 cup thyme
1/2 cup rose geranium

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.

Herbal Vinegar Bath Recipe
Add 2 handfuls of your choice of herbs (individual or a combination) to 5 cups vinegar. Bring to a boil and let stand overnight. Strain and bottle. Add 1 capful to the bath. Refrigerate and use as desired.

Bath Oil with Essential Oils
4 parts Turkey Red Oil
1 part essential oil (a single fragrance or a mixture)

Add to the warm bath water to soften the skin as you bathe.Note: Turkey Red Oil is a processed castor oil that will mix into the water rather than floating on top.
The Backyard Patch has a large number of Bath Bags and Sachets, Milk Baths and Soothing Oat Baths to try if you want to experiment with the soothing properties of a bath.  Check out our listings at Ebay.  And this winter we developed a bath sampler with three heat-sealed tea bags containing three different bath blends.  You can find this in our SAMPLER listings.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Herb of the Week - Violets

Wonderful wild garden and prairie flowers, Violets also make great borders and companions for upright flowering plants, like hybrid roses and herbs.  They are easy to grow from seed and since this is garden planning time, I thought you might want to know more about this special little edible flower.

So this week's Herb of the Week is Sweet Violets.

The Ancient Greeks considered the Violet a symbol of fertility and love, they used it in love potions. Pliny recommended that a garland of them be worn about the head to ward off headaches and dizzy spells.  The scent of violets is fleeting, so making a syrup or freezing a tea made from fresh leaves and flowers is a great way to preserve its wonderful scent.

To Grow
Violets are perennials that spread via runner.  They are originally from Europe, but are now naturalized throughout North America, and can be found growing in most any soil or situation. Violets are easily cultivated through root cuttings or seeds. There exist over 900 species, however all have practically the same medicinal and edible herb values.

The heart shaped leaves, often with scalloped or slightly serrated edges, are dark green, smooth or sometimes downy underneath, and grow in a rosette at the base of the plant.  Roots are creeping and send out runners. Depending on soil and the amount of light the plant receives the flowers may be from deep purple or blue to pinkish or even yellow white. All have 5 petals, which may have a yellow (fur) or beard on the inside of two of the petals, blooming from March to June.

To Use
Gather flowers in full bloom, leaves anytime, and rootstock in fall. Dry root for later use.  Medicinal and edible, the flowers and leaves of viola are made into a syrup used in alternative medicine mainly for respiratory ailments associated with congestion, coughing, and sore throat. Large doses of the root contain an alkaloid called violine which is emetic (causing vomiting).  In some cultures this was used as a cure, although I don’t recommend it. 

A decoction made from the root can be used as a laxative. Tea made from the entire plant is used to treat digestive disorders and since it is rich in vitamin A and C great for cold season.  New research has detected the presence of a glycoside of salicylic acid (natural aspirin) which substantiates its use for centuries as a medicinal remedy for headache, body pains and as a sedative.  Other constituents in the plant such as Eugenol, Ferulic-acid, Kaempferol, Quercetin, Scopoletin, also show promise in the treatment of many kinds of cancer, arthritis, AIDS, gum disease and more, although these studies are still recent. Used externally the fresh crushed leaves reduce swelling and soothe irritations. Violet leaf oil is good for tinnitus (ringing in the ears.)

As a bath additive the fresh crushed flowers are soothing to the skin and the aroma is very relaxing.
Flowers are also edible and used in salads, made into jelly, frozen in ice cubes and candied for decoration.


Simple Violet Syrup (for treating coughs, colds and headaches)

2 cups boiling water
1 cup packed fresh flowers and leaves
2 lb. sugar

Pour boiling water over fresh crushed flowers and leaves cover and let stand for 12 hours. Strain and squeeze through cloth, add sugar and boil for 1 hour or until syrupy. Store in glass jars. Give 1 to 3 tsp. 2 or 3 times a day (only 1 tsp. for children.)

One of my herbal pals at Prairieland Herb Farm in Iowa  has a blog detailing how to make violet syrup.

Violet Tea

1 cup water
1/4 cup fresh or dried violet leaves or flowers

Steep dried or fresh violets in 1 cup of water for 10 min. stain, use honey to sweeten to taste. Take in 1/2 cup doses twice a day for medicinal use or enjoy one cup slowly as a morning tea.

Violet Jelly
Violet flowers make a killer jelly.  I like this recipe although when I first started making this I used the Sure-Jel recipe for grape jelly and substituted about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fresh violet flowers for the grapes.

2 heaping cups of fresh violet petals
2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup well-strained, clear lemon juice
4 cups sugar
3 oz liquid pectin (Certo) (you can also use powdered Sure-Jel dissolved in water)

Wash petals well, drain and place in heat-proof glass or nonreactive bowl. Pour boiling water over petals and let steep from 30 minutes to 24 hours. It usually takes about two hours for violets. Strain through a fine sieve, reserving the clear, purplish liquid or infusion. If not using immediately, refrigerate up to 24 hours.
Place jars and lids on rack in pan or stockpot deep enough to cover them with about two inches of water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, keeping the jars hot until ready to fill.

To make the jelly, stir lemon juice and sugar into reserved infusion in a two-quart nonreactive or stainless steel pan. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Add the liquid pectin and continue to boil two minutes, skimming any foam that may rise to the surface.

Ladle quickly into jars to within about 1/8 inch from the top; clean each rim and threads of the jar as it's filled, and place flat lid and ring on each before filling the next. Screw band on tightly and invert jar on tea towel for about 5 to 10 minutes. Jars should seal and lids should pop shut within 10 minutes as they cool. If they do not seal, you can place them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes or place in the refrigerator.
Sealed jars will last up to one year in a cool, dark place. Put any unsealed jelly in the refrigerator. They should keep about three weeks. Makes four or five half-pint jars.

We will soon be sharing garden planning tips so if you are thinking about including herbs in your flower or vegetable garden or creating a personal herb garden, please stop back for more info.

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