Sunday, September 29, 2013

Healing with Herbs - a new Twist

I get on a kick each fall about my health.  Most people do this either at the beginning of the year or when they realize summer is around the corner and exercising is more fun in the summer.  I do it when I finally slow down after the growing season begins to wain.  I look at my garden and start making plans for next year and I do the same with myself.  I bought a car two years ago in December and as a result I stopped riding my bicycle everywhere I wanted to go.  As a result I have put on weight.  I spend too much time, blogging, I think (wink wink!)

So part of my plans for rejuvenating me are to increase the use of healthy herbs for my immune system and general health in my average day.  That requires working with my chef (I mean hubby) to use certain herbs for certain things.  Last week I saw my opening when he asked for tea and PBS Mystery! and I was able to serve one of my own blends  “Tea Time Tea.” He loved it and drank a whole pot.  Now I have the opening to introduce several new ideas in the kitchen.

This is what I am going to start with:
1.      A few teas to have in the morning.  Not sure I can get him to give up coffee, but I never have drunk the stuff….
2.      Add a few herbs more regularly to the cooking repertoire.
3.      Include some fall fruits in our menu.


Now I have touted the benefits of green tea for years (even before it was popular)  I make three green tea and herb blends, but finally I pulled all my resources together to determine just how good it was for me.  This is the result.  Green tea helps burn fat, protects against heart disease, help lower blood pressure, help protect against diabetes, it can kill bacteria so help prevent food poisoning, It prevents the growth of dangerous intestinal bacterial strains such as clostridia and E. coli and promotes the growth of friendly bifidobacteria (you recognize that from the commercials right?) which protect against cancer, improves your immunity, protect against Alzheimer’s disease and can help fight allergies!  Since all those items play in the lives of my husband and myself I decided that perhaps when he makes his morning coffee I will have my first cup of tea at home.

Now in the winter a robust tea on a cold day is a must on an Illinois evening.  I love chai tea for that.  A Chai tea with its spices including Cinnamon and Nutmeg can aid digestion, improve circulation, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.  My circulation is not good and once the evening temps drop below 65 my feet turn to ice, so anything that can improve circulation and work as an anti-inflammatory will be an aid to my winter.


My father and I love the flavor of licorice which made fennel a popular herb for me, but not so much with other people I know, however, when I discovered that it helps regulate the healthy levels of cholesterol in the blood stream, I started to preserve the leaves and seeds in new ways.  It is a rich source of potassium and for those who cannot eat bananas due to diabetes and other drug interactions, fennel may be a nice alternative.  You also get the anti flatulent qualities too!
bronze fennel with swiss chard

Potassium, by the way, is an essential nutrient in our bodies and can help prevent heart disease, strokes and heart attacks.

Garlic has many properties for goodness and health.  This will be the easiest item to get incorporated into my diet.  The hubby loves garlic and onions. Garlic is another heart healthy herb.  It protects the heart against cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and atherosclerosis. Garlic has the ability to moderately lower our blood triglycerides and total cholesterol and reduce arterial plaque formation. Daily intake of garlic has been found to lower risk of most types of cancer. This anti-cancer property is due to allyl sulphides found in garlic.  Garlic is great at combating colds and flu as well due to full of antibacterial and antiviral properties.

One of my favorite herbs (second only to lemon verbena) is thyme.  Thyme contains anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent chronic inflammation of the body. Thyme has antibacterial properties which are proven to help fight a variety of bacteria and fungi, including E.coli. That is why thyme vinegar is a must in our household cleaning.  Thyme can also help to improve bone health as it is an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of iron, calcium and manganese which are all essential to promoting proper bone growth.

I read a study that said thyme was effective at fighting the bacteria that causes skin acne so I will be trying some in a salve this winter too. The antioxidant protection of thyme combined with its anti-inflammatory effects help to prevent cardiovascular disease as chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of heart disease. With all this going for it, not only do I like to use thyme (lemon thyme) in teas, but I also love to cook with it.  This year we made an herb paste with it so we could freeze fresh thyme in cubes and add them to dishes while cooking in the winter.


Fall is also the season for Cranberries.  I am missing the Cranberry Festival in Warren, Wisconsin that is taking place this weekend.  Cranberry juice is widely known as a treatment for bladder and urinary tract infections, however so much of the cranberry juice on the market is filled with sugar that then promotes the growth of bacteria they cancel each other out.  Instead I find other ways to eat cranberries.  Dried in scones, dried or fresh in tea, fresh in salads and jells.  In a tea cranberry is widely recognized as containing powerful anti-oxidant properties. You can use the drinking of this tea to help prevent and slow the progression of the gum disease, or gingivitis.   Cranberries are also said to protect the vital organs, such as the heart, from falling prey to free radical damage.  They, like green tea, are very high in anti-oxidants.  If you can keep away oxygenation of the cells you live longer, stay healthier and feel better.

The cranberry contains organic acids that actually eat away at fat deposits in the liver and kidney, flushing them out of the system. Regular intake in combination of a healthy diet can result in weight loss & can be used to cure urinary tract infections through its ability to filter the system.

This year, my goals of improving my eating through use of herbs and teas is going to be the best and easiest way to keep me healthy through the winter and give me the energy needed to ride that bicycle that goes nowhere.  I’ll keep you updated and share the recipes we create.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Creamy Chicken and Wild rice Soup - Weekend Recipe

In my former life as a museum director, I worked at a Native American Museum.  Each year we would have a brunch  in the winter time (in the summer we had a Pow-Wow!)

One of the highlights of the event was corn soup and wild rice soup.  Now since most people cannot get true Indian corn to make the corn soup, I thought I would share the wild rice recipe instead.  I love to get my wild rice from the Ojibwa in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Here is a great website for native food goods:
Right now is Wild Rice or Mahnomin season so the best rice is to be had in the fall.  And this recipe is so very tasty on a chilly fall day.  The prep is best and easiest if you used already cooked chicken meat (dark is good too!) and precooked wild rice.  Making the rice per package direction until the skin splits and the rice curls makes it perfect.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

2 tsp olive oil
2  cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup onion, finely chopped
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
2 cups cooked wild rice
1/2 tsp. dried  thyme
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken breast, chopped
1 cup whipping cream, heavy cream, half and half, or fat free half and half
2  tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

In a saucepan at moderate heat, pour in olive oil and heat. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, and onion. Sauté until onion is clear and vegetables soft. Pour in chicken broth and add the wild rice, thyme leaves, black and cayenne pepper, and chicken. Heat the soup for 10 minutes. Add the whipping cream. Stir in parsley and it's ready.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Pesto Topped Summer Squash

It is the season for making Pesto.  If you Basil is not done for the season it soon will be.  The temps are threatening to drop below 40 in the coming week here so the rush to harvest
the basil is on.

That means much Pesto is in my future.  Check out this post if you want to know a few ways to make and preserve Pesto.

I thought I would share this great recipe that uses yellow or zucchini summer squash with a bit of Pesto.

If you serve this with a side of pasta you have a great meal.

Grilled Summer Squash with Pesto topping
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium summer squash, (about 1 pound), sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
Canola or olive oil cooking spray

Preheat grill to medium-high. 

Combine basil, pine nuts, oil, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl.  If you chop the basil fine you will not need to use a blender.  If not, you can run all but the nuts in a food processor and stir in the nuts.  I like the nuts whole for this recipe.

Coat both sides of squash slices with cooking spray. Grill the squash until browned and tender, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve topped with the pesto.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Green Beans and Red Peppers - Weekend Recipe

No, I am not rushing Christmas, I just thought since the garden is still producing for a few more weeks this would be a great recipe to use some of that bounty!

Green Bean  and Red Pepper Salad

1 lb. green beans, steamed
1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
½ cup olive oil
3 Tbls. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon balm  (or lemon verbena)
½ tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. granulated onion

Place beans and peppers in a serving dish.  In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, lemon herbs, mustard, paprika and salt.  Toss with beans and peppers.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Eyebright - Herb of the Week

Focusing on the Pretty for September 11.

This plant may commonly be referred to as meadow eyebright, and red eyebright as well.   The name comes from one of its major benefits for the eyes and is recommended by Herbalists for anyone suffering from various eye problems.

So this week we have chosen Eyebright euphrasia officinalis as the herb of the week.


Belonging to the Figwort family (a type of flowering plant), eyebright is completely edible. From its flowers, to its stems, and its leaves, all the parts of this herb can be used in some manner or the other to treat several conditions. This herb has been used for several years to treat a host of health problems.

Eyebright can be identified by its small, oval shaped leaves, and small white or red flowers. The flowers have a black center, and purple streaks on the petals with a central yellow spot. It grows primarily in grassy areas such as meadows and pastures.


An annual semi-parasitic herb that grows about 2 to 12 inches high.  It thrives when it attaches itself to the roots and stems of grasses, absorbing mineral substances from them.  The leaves are rounded, toothed and small, about ½ inch long.  They have a tiny white flower that is double lipped with a yellow throat and dark purple veins.  The flower is so attractive you don’t want to clip it off.
It is native to southern Europe as far north as Siberia and the Himalayas.  It prefers pastures and meadowland with a poor soil.  It you want to grow this you need to plant the seeds near host grasses.


Eyebright makes a nice tea.   Using both fresh and dried leaves you can make an eyebright tea. Take a cup of boiling hot water, and add to it 1 teaspoon of fresh chopped eyebright leaves.  You will need twice as much dry to get the right potency so 2 tsp. dry. Allow the leaves to steep in the water for about 10 minutes, to create an infusion.  You can consume this or use it as a compress.

Conditions with inflammation, such as inflammation of the eye, cataract, conjunctivitis, and sties can be treated by using an eyebright tea compress because it works well reducing inflammation.  Thai is also why it is used to lessen dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. . Prepare the tea as mentioned above, and strain it thoroughly so that no remnants of the leaves are left. Allow the tea to cool, and dip a cotton pad in the tea and place on the eye for several minutes.  For cataracts, strained eyes, conjunctivitis, and sties, add a cup of rose water to eyebright tea, and use it as an eyewash three to four times a day.  Do this for a week then stop to see if healing has begun.
eyebright  among the grasses

Eyebright is rich in beta-carotene and flavanoids, compounds that help improve cognitive function.  Drinking one cup of eyebright tea every morning can help improve your memory over time.   A study conducted on mice has shown that regular consumption of eyebright  in any form helps eliminate harmful toxins from the liver, and thereby protect it from long-term damage.

Eyebright can be used topically as an anti-acne agent too. Simply apply eyebright tea with a cotton pad on the acne affected area and leave it overnight for maximum benefits. You may also make a face pack by crushing fresh eyebright leaves and adding a few drops of rose water to it. Apply it on your face for 20 minutes before bed time, and wash it off before sleeping. You will notice that the irritation caused by acne is largely reduced.  Drinking eyebright tea can also help keep your skin clear.  I find the gentleness of eyebright is great for reducing the redness caused by my roseacea.

There are those who also believe eyebright can reduce allergy symptoms especially hay fever and sinusitis.  Overall an unusual herb to grow with many medicinal uses.

NOTE:  If you have had any kind of eye surgery, do not use eyebright in any manner without consulting your doctor. Also, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctors before consuming eyebright.


The Backyard Patch has a set of 4 eyebright tea bags which we have been marketing as a compress and tea for eye health for several years.  You can check it out here.

Eyebright compress
2 teaspoons dried eyebright
2 teaspoons ordinary black tea leaves
Hot water

Mix the dried eyebright and tea leaves in a small bowl, then spoon into 2 empty tea bags. Seal or fold over the bags. Place the bags in a shot glass of hot but not boiling water. Leave for 10 minutes, then squeeze out and place one over each eye.

Relax with the eye compresses on for 10 to 15 minutes. Make fresh as you need it.
Eyebright Eyewash
Eyebright herb relieves inflammation caused by colds, sinus infections, and allergies.

1 ounce of the herbs (about 2 Tablespoons)
2 cups boiling water

A simple infusion in the water, allowed to steep at least 10 minutes before straining.   Strain infusion thoroughly to remove any herbal particles. Use a sterile cup to avoid infecting the eyes, and bath the eyes three or four times a day. When there is much pain, use a warm infusion as often as needed until the pain is removed. In ordinary cases the cold application is found sufficient.  Works as a compress on closed eyes.

Notes: These recipes do not constitute medical advice. Always consult a professional healthcare provider before trying any form of therapy or if you have any questions or concerns about a medical condition. The use of natural products can be toxic if misused, and even when suitably used, certain individuals could have adverse reactions.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Tomato Dressing

 This is a quick and easy dressing you can make in the bender that is wonderful on mixed greens. It keeps well and can even be canned and saved for winter.  The tomatoes are the acid so you don't need vinegar.

Creamy Tomato Dressing

3 tomatoes
2 Tbls. flax or grape oil
½ tsp. sea salt
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
2 Tbls. fresh thyme, striped from stem

Place tomatoes, oil and seasonings in a blender and process until all ingredients are smooth and creamy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Saving Seed

Each year I make a point of saving a few seeds, but this year I thought I might make a more concerted effort.

In chatting with a few friends, I realized that some people do not collect seeds because they are unsure what the seeds look like and how to save them.

Now when I started looking for info to share, I came across Mr. Brownthumb.  He has several great blog posts including one on making a kit for collecting seed.  Now I am not as organized as he is, but I do collect some of the same seeds.

The largest family of flowering plants is Compositae (Asteraceae). So if you are hoping to save the seed of flowers from your garden these are probably the ones you are trying to save.  The Aster family includes asters, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, rudbeckias, daisies, gazanias, calendula and zinnias.
Another place to look up information on seed saving is the seed saving forums on Garden Web.

The largest family of flowering plants is Compositae (Asteraceae). So if you are hoping to save the seed of flowers from your garden these are probably the ones you are trying to save.  The Aster family includes asters, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, rudbeckias, daisies, gazanias, calendula and zinnias.

Zinnia of the Compositae family

I experiment with various annuals each year, trying a new basil or two, growing a different dill or a unique nasturtium color combination.  When I discover a plant I want to try again, I will save the seed.  I could say it saves you money buying seed in the spring, but I cannot say seed saving has ever saved me from spending once the catalogs arrive.

You want to save seeds when you have a good year and this was a very good year, which got me to thinking about being more organized.  You want to pay attention to the weather report and harvest before a rain or highly humid day, moist air can cause a dried seed to expand and crack ruining it for spring germination.

Where are the Seeds?

On herbs it is hard to miss the seeds as they tend to be obvious, like on dill or basil.  But flowering herbs like Nasturtiums are a bit harder to locate.

Plants in the Mint family may produce many tiny flowers among a stem, like basil or Anise hyssop.  These are a spike of tiny flowers each with a seed nestled back at the stem. Collect these seeds by shaking them inside of a paper envelope. Cutting off the stalks and hanging them upside down also helps release the seeds inside.  Of course this assuming you let them flower which I do not always do, clipping the flowers off as soon as I see them.  However, come September I choose the best looking plants and let them flower and go to seed so I have seeds to collect.

With Coneflowers like Echinacea or black eyes Susans. (Aster Family) the center of the flower is black and is actually made up of smaller flowers that each produce a seed.  You will be capturing that entire center as the seed head. Compositae flowers, like those of calendula and zinnia, have tight bunches of petals, with no “eye,” but the seeds develop right in the center.

With a flower like a dandelion the ends of the petals are the seeds so you want to collect the flower head before the flower is entirely faded, because it will blow away in the wind taking your seed with it.

As you see the key to flowering plants is to look near the petals.  The colorful petals attract the pollinators, then once pollinated die back or fall away leaving the seed exposed so it can be scattered.

Nasturtiums have a very open flower that does not develop a seedpod, instead the seeds hang below the flower in a little bundle.  But all you have to do to find them is sweep back the plant flowers and they will be hanging underneath.

Alliums, or chives, are a flowering bulb, but the attractive puff ball flowers do produce seeds as well. You want to cut the flowers before they drop, but after they seem spent.  If you wait too long the seed will scatter before you collect the flower head.

Seeds from vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers are found inside among the flesh.
Saving the Seeds 
To save seeds you need containers to keep them in while collecting and those to store them in once collected and separated.
I generally collect in paper bags and paper envelopes so any moisture in the seeds is not trapped in a plastic container.

Once the seeds are dry, then I place them in a new envelope or other sealed container to improve their longevity.  If I have a collection of envelopes, I place those in a canning jar or a coffee can.

Record the information about your plant when you harvest the seed, plant name, soil conditions, and height of the plant.  You have to do it when you harvest because even 15 minutes later you will forget what you cut from where.
Don't crowd too many plant stems or seed heads into a small envelope when you're harvesting seeds.
To dry the seeds after I collect them I spread them like my herbs on paper towel in cardboard trays.  Or I leave them in the paper bag I used to collect them.  You want to remove as much plant matter (leaves, petals, etc.) as you can to avoid mold.  If leaving them in a paper bag you want to shake the seed heads to keep them evenly drying.  I will actually stir those on the tray with my fingers occasionally.  You only need a few days to get the seeds dry if conditions are right. 

Once the seeds are dry place them in small envelopes for finally saving.  You can use a plain envelope. Or you can make a specialized one or even a decorative one.  If you like a reminder of what to put on the envelopes of seed, try this template for seed envelopes.
Once you have all the envelopes labels, place them in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid to keep moisture from coming back into to the seed damaging its germination rate.

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