Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making Tinctures for Health

Tinctures You Can Make

If you've been reading about herbal healing, you're no doubt aware of tinctures, preparations in which the herbs have been steeped in alcohol. Taking an herb in tincture form is often convenient, especially if you're traveling. Purchased tinctures are usually fairly expensive, but you can make them at home, using herbs you've grown in the garden—and you'll have the satisfaction of using your own herbs to create something that may benefit your health. This recipe recommends alcohol; you can also choose vinegar and glycerin, but the recipe will be slightly different.  I wrote an article on vinegar tinctures for the most recent issue (Sept./Oct. 2012) of the Essential Herbal Magazine.

What you need:
  • a quart glass jar with a lid, and a wooden spoon
  • 2 cups alcohol (brandy, vodka, gin)
  • plastic strainer and unbleached coffee filter
  • bottles (dark amber with droppers preferred)
  • labels
  • herb of your choice: 4 oz. dry; 6 oz. fresh more or less
How to do it:
Fill the jar with the herb you've chosen. Pour the alcohol over the plant material, pushing it down with the wooden spoon until it is completely covered, adding more alcohol if necessary. Cover the jar and label it with the date, the herb, and the kind of alcohol you've used. Put it on a dark shelf for 3-4 weeks, shaking occasionally and checking to see whether you need to add alcohol. Make sure that the plant material remains covered at all times. Strain, using the plastic strainer first, and then the coffee filter. Discard the herbs. Rebottle and label.

Because of the alcohol tinctures have a very long shelf life and not much risk of spoiling.  They need to be made with fresh herbs to capture the herbal; essences which give the tincture’s their potency.

I wrote a similar blog on Making Herbal Tinctures back in 2010 where I included herbs to include in your tinctures. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weekend Recipe - Cucumber Mint Salad

Cucumber Mint Salad

The mints in my garden seem to have been affected the least by this summer’s drought.  I have been able to harvest them steadily and as a result I have made a number of recipes with mint that I would not normally have crafted because the other herbs were not ready for harvest. 

Cucumber and mint are used to craft a traditional salad in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.  It is used as both a condiment as well as a side dish.  This recipe is a creamy cooling cucumber salad.

3 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbls. fresh peppermint, minced
1 Tbls. lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
dash of salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients except cucumbers together and place in a bowl in the refrigerator to meld overnight.  Stir in cucumber just before serving.  Garnish with additional mint leaves.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whitening Stained Finger Nails

This time of year I have been gardening and weeding outdoors for several months. And even though I wear gloves, my nails tend to get darkened from the soil.  I found this recipe in the Herb Companion Magazine.  

It is a simple Nail Whitener that you can apply to your nails to remove stains and discolorations.  If your stains come from nail polish, rather than dirt, it works on that too!  The main ingredient is orange flower water, like rose water, you can pick up this at a gourmet stores as it is normally used to make fragrant drinks or orange flavored desserts.  Be aware that you should moisturize your hands if you use lemon juice near them as it is very drying.

Nail Whitener

2 Tbls. orange flower water
1 tsp. lemon juice, fresh

Blend ingredients and place in a clean lidded container.

To Use: Apply with a cotton swap or pad and apply to clean, dry nails.  Allow to dry.  Repeat two or three times.  You do this over and over until your nails are back to their natural color.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekend Recipe - White Tea Sangria

White Tea Sangria
Something cold and fruity on a hot day.  What is better than iced tea?  Perhaps Iced tea with a twist!

4 heaping Tbsp. loose white tea
1 bottle white wine, chilled
2 cups white grape juice, chilled
1 orange, washed and sliced
1 lime, washed and sliced
1 lemon, washed and sliced
2 kiwis, washed and sliced
1 peach, washed and sliced
1 apple, washed and sliced
6–12 berries, washed
6–12 grapes, washed

In a teapot or jar, cover tea leaves with boiling water and steep for 4 minutes. Strain out leaves and let tea cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Pour into ice-filled glasses. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: Substitute any of the fruits with whatever fresh, seasonal fruits you have on hand. Also, you can use oolong tea instead of white tea, if desired.
4 cups boiling water

Friday, August 3, 2012

Weekend Recipe - Beet Gratin with Gruyère and Thyme

Beet Gratin with Gruyère and Thyme

When I was at the farmers market last Wednesday, there was someone surprised and intrigued by the many colors of beets.  Her curiosity made me buy several colors.  All I had ever done previously was pickle them, so when I went home that day and found this recipe I had to try it .

I prepared this recipe in individual ramekins. A gratin dish will also work for family style serving. Red beets, golden beets or a combination may be used.

Unsalted butter
4 medium-sized red beets, peeled (I used 2 golden and 2 red)
Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.) Butter 4 ramekins. Thinly slice beets with a mandolin. Arrange one layer of sliced beets in each ramekin (one slice may fit perfectly.) Lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with cheese, a little thyme and a pinch of nutmeg. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat layering process until ramekins are full, pressing down lightly. Bake in oven until gratins are bubbling, cheese is golden and beets are tender, about 45 minutes. Serve warm with fresh thyme sprigs as garnish.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Scented marigolds - Herb of the Week

The heat has not bothered the Scented marigolds, which makes them the perfect herb of the week!
Yesterday I got out to the garden for the first time since last week. and to my great surprise the border planting of scented marigolds has popped into bloom.  We've finally had some rain and not quite so scorching of heat.

Don't they look beautiful?  And with the backdrop of my Lemon Basil they accent as a border.  My production garden does not always have the luxury of being "pretty," but yesterday it surely was!
The Tagetes family is a great selection of flavored marigolds that grow much better in zone 7 and above than they do here in zone 5, but I love to grow them as an annual.  (These are not your traditional French or African Marigolds - known as Tagetes patula.)
What I mean to speak about today are the scented (also called flavored) marigolds.  The flowers are small and the leaves and flowers are strongly scented and very tasty.  They fall into the category of edible flowers (which you can check out in a former blog post here.)
The marigolds I want to talk about have several names.  In zone 5 they grow wonderfully well as an annual and can be grown from seed.  When you scatter them like I did they bloom in July, if you start them indoors they start blooming in June and they are a continuous bloomer that will decorate for the rest of the season.

 Here are the various scented varieties:
Tagetes lucida - The species Tagetes lucida, known as "pericón," is used to prepare a sweetish, anise flavored medicinal tea in Mexico. It is also used as a culinary herb in many warm climates, as a substitute for tarragon, and offered in the nursery as "Texas tarragon" or "Mexican mint marigold" (Tagetes erecta).
Tagetes minuta, native to southern South America is a tall upright marigold plant with small flowers, and is used as a culinary herb in Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Chile and Bolivia, where it is called by the Incan term huacatay. Huacatay paste is used to make the popular potato dish called ocopa. The taste and odor of fresh Tagetes minuta is like a mixture of sweet basil, tarragon, mint and citrus. It is also used as a medicinal tea in some areas.  I have never tied growing this one, but Lemon Verbena Lady has grown it.
I love the lemon and tangerine flavored the most.  I got hooked on them when I found the Lemon Gem at the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory herb sale my very first year.  I bought them there for over a decade before they stopped carrying them.  If you are a seed saver, marigold seed is easy to collected and save so you can repeat the crop year after year.
Tagetes Lemmonii

Tagetes tenuifolia - lemon gem

Tagetes lemmonii  leaves are truly lemon scented. I like to put them on the border because when you brush past, you release the scent. Even a slight breeze will bring the scent wafting into my apartment from the potted ones on the patio.

Tagetes tenuifolia - Comes in two varieties, Lemon Gem marigold producing lemon-yellow flower heads and its sister Tangerine Gem with that hint of orange scent and pinkish orange flowers. Both are a natural insect repellant for herb and vegetable gardens. There are bushy dwarf marigolds that look great in a rock garden or in a border. Blooms are incredibly profuse on low-growing mounds of scented foliage. The petite, single blossoms of lemon and tangerine taste as good at the name suggests!
According to some I have read these plants can grow to 4 to 5 feet in perfect conditions in Arizona and TX, but here in the north they stay closer to 6 to 10 inches making them perfect for borders and pots.

Here are both Lemon Gem and Tangarine Gem at the Chicago Botanic Garden

To Grow
T. tenuifolia, which has 8-inch mounds of lacy, citrus-scented leaves and ½-inch red, orange, or yellow single flowers need only warmth to grow quickly. Sow seed indoors a few weeks before the last frost or direct-seed when the soil is warm. Give them full sun in average soil and moisture for best results, but don’t worry if the soil is poor or dry. Excess fertility may promote lush growth, few flowers, and soft stems, especially in the tall cultivars, which then need to be staked. Wash spider mites off with regular, strong hosings or control with soap spray. Remove spent flowers regularly to encourage more blooms.
To Use
Make a paste by mashing the flowers and a few leaves in a mortar and pestle with a few drops of oil.  Then use the paste to color the sauce in Ocopa.  My husband did his archaeology fieldwork outside Arequipa Peru where these flowers grow well and this dish is popular.  Called Ocopa Arequipena, the dish has some similarities to Papas a la Huancaina. It consists of boiled and sliced yellow potatoes covered with a sauce of made of aji (chili pepper), walnuts, a Peruvian herb called "Huatacay" (that gives it a vivid color), fresh or white cheese, sided with lettuce, boiled eggs and olives. It is usually served in restaurants specializing in Peruvian Food or restaurants serving food from Arequipa, a southern Peruvian City. 

Ocopa (serves 4)

  • 3 chilies mirasol
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts
  • 6 oz. farmer's cheese
  • a maceration of scented geramiun leaves or flowers (first choice Tagetes minuta but you can substitute Tagetes tenuifolia)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 lbs. yellow potatoes cooked, halved
1. Remove seeds from the chilies and let soak in water overnight.
2. Put in the blender the chilies, walnuts, cheese and oil. Liquify until a smooth sauce. Season with geranium leaves, salt and pepper.
3. Place the potatoes in a serving dish. Cover with the sauce and garnish with lettuce leaves.

You can also use scented marigold flowers in any dish where edible flowers are used, including cream cheese spreads and salads.  See the blog entry on Nasturtiums for some recipes you can substitute Scented Marigolds.

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