Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Scent of Herbs

This year I had a community garden where it became obvious that I am really good at growing herbs, but perhaps not so great at vegetables.  I put a small edging of herbs along the front of the 20’ x 20’ garden which prospered in this odd season of no hot weather and too much rain.

At my regular herb garden I have a special shed with a black roof to speed drying.  But I was not going to transport the herbs from the garden in Elmhurst to the herb garden 7 miles to the north, so I filled the gathering basket and took the herbs to the apartment.  I had forgotten in the years we lived in this apartment what it smelled like to have fresh herbs drying inside. 

I have bundled the herbs, and hung them on hangers, spread them on paper towel lined plates on my riser and spread them on cooking sheets. It has kinda taken over the dining room, but since we never eat in the dining room this was not much of a big deal.  

And the smell it is really wonderous.  The mixture of lemon and mint and thyme and basil and oregano is a heady combination.  Sometimes it makes me hungry.  Other times it just makes me relax.

They say that the scent of herbs is very healing. 

Mint and lemon balm are laid out on paper towel on my cookie baking sheets.  You can see the paper bags which hold the thyme.  This is the best way to dry thyme.  It takes only a couple of days and you can then strip it into the bag and pour into a jar.  It sure beats trying to bundle those tiny stems.  I have always tossed cut thyme into a bag, in the shed I binder clip the bags to the edges of the building interior.

The mint, lemon balm, fennel, dill, oregano and basil all hang from the hangers.  In a couple of days I can pull of the crisp dry bundles and toss them into a storage bag.

The healing power of the scents could account for the fact that Hubby’s fall allergies (and accompanying snoring) have been almost non-existent.  And my insomnia is easily cured by sleeping on the couch, which is right next to the dining room.

So if you have herbs that have flourished this year, cut them and hang them in your home, not only will you enjoy the healing power of the scents, you will be carrying on an ages old tradition of wise herb growing women for the last thousand years who know that herbs are good for us!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goldenrod - Herb of the Week

This particular plant is in bloom right now.  Often confused with Ragweed and thought to cause allergic reactions, this plant is actually very helpful in teas, tonic, and tinctures.  So in honor of it blooming in all its glory right about now, I have chosen

Goldenrod Solidago spp. as Herb of the Week

When the tall spires of goldenrod begin to boast their yellow blooms I know we have reached fall.  That color seems to by synonymous with the season change.  Goldenrod is a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family and grows all over the world and most species are probably medicinal in some respect or another.

The name solidago means "to make whole." Historical references site using goldenrod poultices for healing wounds and for use on burns. Also known as Blue Mountain Tea and Liberty Tea certainly hints at its medicinal uses in history.

Goldenrod is a delicious edible. The flowers can be fried up as fritters and the mild tasting leaves can be cooked and eaten as well. I recently learned that the goldenrod stem makes a great "hand drill" to start a fire. Instead of using a bow drill, you twirl the goldenrod stem around with your palms to create the friction and heat to start the fire.  They might need this info on the next “Survivor.”

One of my herbalist friends makes a dye from goldenrod.  She colored wool roving and yarn, and silk scarves, saying the color was so bright and pretty. 


There are over 100 species of goldenrods (Solidago). Solidago virgaurea, S. canadensis, S. gigantea, and S. odora as well as others.  All commonly used in a similar manner. Each species has varying degrees of qualities however. One species may be more bitter than the next, or more astringent. Most of the time these plants grow as weeds filling empty areas and field margins. I do not know of anyone in Illinois planting goldenrod on purpose, but I have seen the seed in catalogs.  It is a natural prairie plant and in my recent walks to restored prairie areas and areas left to grow wild it is prolific.

The leaves grow opposite and are lance-shaped.  The flowers are numerous and yellow appearing at the top of the stalk with a large number of blooms populating a single branch.

I haven't heard of any Solidago variety being harmful, but it is always best to know exactly what you are harvesting and using. Check with local sources to see if your local varieties have a history of use.

Medicinal Uses

Almost all the parts of Goldenrod can be used for medicinal concoctions.  The Fresh flower or flowering tops can be tinctured, flower infused honey, root tincture, infusion or strong tea of dried leaves or flowering tops, flower or flowering tops infused oil, flower elixir, this list goes on.

Goldenrod has a long history of use for the urinary system. It has been used for urinary tract infections as a tool for strengthening the kidneys. Goldenrod is both astringent and antiseptic. By tightening and toning the tissues of the urinary system, as well as providing action against bacteria, goldenrod is well suited to addressing bladder and urinary tract infections. Many of the older herbal literature sources cite it being used for kidney stones and it is still being used this way.

The German Commission E has officially approved goldenrod for the treatment of bladder and urinary system inflammations.

Another area where goldenrod shines is for allergic reactions or seasonal allergies. I use it in many of my seasonal formulas (often combined with peach and plantain) and have seen it completely eliminate the itchy-red-eyes, runny nose and excessive sneezing symptoms for many people.

Goldenrod also works really well for cat dander allergies. I suggest that people keep start with a small does and keep increasing the dose until relief is found.

Many people despise goldenrod and blame it for their fall sniffles. However, the more likely culprit is ragweed an Ambrosia species. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects, not by wind. As a result, its pollen is heavy and sticky and does not readily float through the air and thus into people's noses to cause the offending symptoms.

In recent times goldenrod has gained popularity for reliving many different aches and pains from chronic arthritis and acute injuries. It can be infused into oil and rubbed into the painful areas for this purpose.  Using the flowers in oils makes a lovely golden color and is nice used in cosmetic items. Barbara Hall over at Lady Barbara’s Garden has also popularized it for all sorts of achy pains, including arthritis in the hands and many people swear by the oil for their painful, stiff fingers come winter.

Goldenrod has 4 times the antioxidant levels of green tea.  Antioxidants are often called the key to good health and longevity. They can rid the body of free radicals, thus reducing the oxygenation of our cells. This process is often blamed for the aging process. Goldenrod is a good source of the constituent rutin. This flavonoid is well-known for its antioxidant benefits and is considered especially beneficial for heart health. I think the best part about this news is that goldenrod makes a rather tasty tea.  Slightly sweet and astringent with a hint of volatile oils it is a tea treat.  Drinking the tea can relieve some flu symptoms and may be useful for treating kidney stones.  Although a tincture may be better way to use it medicinally for kidney treatments.

Almost no known issues are recorded for goldenrod, although Aster family plant sensitivity is possible. Some sources recommend avoiding during pregnancy, but I don’t know a specific reason for this. But please, do not use goldenrod as a substitute for medical care in cases of serious kidney disease or infection.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mustard Dill Sauce - weekend recipe

Both here and on Facebook for the last couple weeks I have been sharing recipes you can make with herbal vinegar.  today I am sharing a great sauce with dill and mustard.  This makes a fine hollandaise-style sauce you serve cold over vegetables, poached eggs, grilled chicken and fish.

Mustard Dill Sauce

½ cup fresh dill
¼ cup Dijon Mustard
3 Tbls. Plain nonfat yogurt
1 Tbls honey
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a blender or food processor, combine dill, mustard, vinegar, yogurt and honey until well blended.  With motor running slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream and continue blending until thick and smooth.  Place in a covered bowl and chill until served.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Creamy Low Calorie Tomato Dressing - Weekend Recipe

It is Herbal Vinegar season and in honor of the fact that I just posted the new batches of vinegar in my Etsy Shoppe this week I thought I would share a recipe that uses an herbal vinegar.  Now I crafted this to go with Tarragon wine vinegar, but by changing the herbal vinegar and the fresh herbs used you can use any herb-based vinegar you have.

Creamy Low Calorie Tomato Dressing

3/4 cup tomato juice (or V-8)
1/2 cup low-fat or no-fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup tarragon wine vinegar
1 large egg, hard boiled and peeled
1 Tbls. soy sauce
1 Tbls. fresh tarragon, minced
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.  Store in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for no more than a week.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bath Blend of the Month -- Southwest Scrub

I always think of cornmeal as a fall items.  The cooler weather means soup time and cornbread so I save this recipe for fall.  Plus exfoliating all the flakes sunburned skin is good to do this time of year also!

Blue cornmeal is an ancient food that also makes a rejuvenating full-body treatment. The Hopi Indians of New Mexico have used blue cornmeal for years to improve vitality and make their skin look more youthful. Mixing it with dried herbs, ground oatmeal and a mild soap enhances this age-old cleanser. If you cannot find blue cornmeal at your marketyou may substitute white or yellow cornmeal for a different coloredbut just as effective, scrub.


1/2 cup ground blue cornmeal
1/2 cup grated castile soap (or other mild bar soap)
1/4 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon dried calendula flower petals
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers

Place cornmeal and grated soap in a large bowl. Using a spice or coffee grinder, finely grind oatmeal and dried herbs. Add this mixture to cornmeal mixture and stir well. Pour into a clean, airtight container. 

To use: Apply as you would any cleanser, and massage all over. Rinse well and then moisturize your skin with a natural oil or rich body lotion. If you have very sensitive skin avoid using this cleanser on your face.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Catnip - Herb of the Week

My cats have been bored since there was another heat wave here and I would not let them out on the patio in the humidity.  As a result they were bugging me to share the catnip.  So I chose as this week’s herb of the week -- Catnip Nepeta cataria

A perennial herb, belonging to the family Labiatae, the catnip plant, most commonly serves as a piece of recreation for house cats. Apart from this, the herb is also popular for its soothing effects and medicinal use for treating cold and flu symptoms and digestive problems. This is the reason why most people enjoy a tea made from the herb. Tinctures, infusions, and poultices have also been crafted from catnip.

In ancient times Catnip was cultivated for cats by the Greeks and Romans. Catnip symbolized fertility and was associated with goddesses of a cat figure and a lion. It was believed to change women into cats at night. In the language of flowers it is said to mean intoxication with love.

In medieval times it was grown in kitchen gardens as a flavorful salad herb and eaten fresh with other greens. It was also used to season meats, because of its robust flavor. 

 also a great pollinator attractor
Catnip tea was a popular drink in England before Chinese or Indian tea became available.  Catnip, with its strong appeal to cats, was grown around houses to keep rats away. Catnip is native to the Mediterranean, but is now grown on all continents.

An old Dutch recipe (reciept) from the 1600s used catnip (among other herbs) as a flover in egg fritters. 
“To make Egg-fritters which are good, first you take all sorts of herbs: Fennel, Violet leaves, Tansy, Sorrel, Spinach, Catnip, Beet and some Leeks and cut them fine together.”

Scientific nomenclature of the catnip plant is Nepeta cataria and it has an active ingredient known as Nepetalactone. Cats are known to have an extremely strong attraction towards this chemical, which is contained in the leaves and stems.

To Grow

Catnip is a perennial plant in the Lamiaceae family and, like all mints, can be invasive if not contained   Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a tall (about three to four feet) plant with white flowers. It smells very strong with mint undertones. Catmint (or Nepeta mussinii,) on the other hand usually tops out at 15 inches and has purple flowers. If you would like to grow catnip, but don’t want to become a favorite feline hangout, Nepeta mussinii is the catnip for you. Some believe it’s more attractive in the landscape, too.  Both are deer resistant.
catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
Catnip is a very hardy plant that will grow in poor to rich soil and in full sun or light shade. More essential oil is produced when it is grown in full sun. Catnip will self-sow where it is planted. The plants are very hardy and need little attention, except for weeding. Catnip plants can be easily grown from seed. You can plant them outdoors or indoors, as well. However, keep them out of the reach of your cats, while they are establishing themselves.

The catnip plant has a tolerance for sunny and dry areas, and is considered drought tolerant, making it a popular landscaping plant. It will grow well from zones 3 through 9.  The plant does well even in poor soil, but one that is well-drained. Dense, well-shaped forms may be obtained by pinching the plant often, while it is in its growing period.

Harvest the plant upon flowering. Late morning is considered as the best time to do it. After getting them dried, crumble them, put into cloth toys and give some to your cat to enjoy.

To Use

To harvest catnip, cut the leaves off the stems and dry in a single layer in a dim, dry, and warm location. Catnip leaves have their highest concentrations of essential oil just before flowering in mid-summer. However, since they bloom from June through September you can also harvest while they are flowering. Dry them upside down in bundles, then store in airtight containers.

Catnip tea has been used to relieve headaches and upset stomachs, to induce sleep, and to relieve colic in children. Chewing the fresh leaves can also relieve a toothache. It has been used as a home remedy for colds, nervousness, fevers, and nightmares. Catnip tea is calming and helps induce relaxation and sleep, especially when mixed with lemon balm and chamomile. Catnip tea can have a sedative effect on people and is useful in settling an upset stomach. Boil 1 cup of water and add either 3 teaspoons of fresh catnip leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves and steep and sweeten to your taste.  The scent of catnip, when used in aromatherapy, acts as a mild sedative, the opposite effect in humans as for cats. Catnip is often used in sleep or relaxation teas as well as in sleep inducing pillow mixtures.

Catnip oil has been used in perfumes, candies, and pharmaceuticals. Catnip tea is said to remove dandruff from the scalp.

Cats and other members of the cat family respond to catnip by sniffing, chewing and licking and body rubbing. This is an inherited response that is present in about two-thirds of all cats, so do not be surprised if your kitty is immune to the effects. The effects are not from ingesting the plant, but rather from an aromatherapy effect through their sense of smell. The plant must be crushed to release the chemicals responsible for this pleasurable effect. The fresher the catnip, the more essential oil the leaves contain, and the greater effect it has on cats. Sniffing catnip gives cat a feeling of euphoria that can make them playful, languid, or even hyperactive.  The effects of the nepetalactone don’t last long—after about 15 minutes your cat is generally ready for another nap.

It is the essential oil in catnip called nepetalactone that gives catnip its characteristic odor. Researchers have found this essential oil to be ten times more effective at repelling insects, especially mosquitoes, than DEET (the hazardous chemical compound found in many commercial insect repellents). Catnip also repels cockroaches.

Catnip has a very strong characteristic odor, so most often it is used in tea instead of as a food flavoring. When using catnip in cooking, choose the Lemon Catnip variety (sometimes called catmint or lemon catmint) and use only the flowers. Remove all bits of leaves as these are usually too strongly flavored to enhance cooking.


Pleasant Dream Pillow Herbal Mixture

3 Tbls. rose petals
3 Tbls. chamomile

1 Tbls. catnip
1 Tbls. spearmint
Pinch of thyme

Combine ingredients and sew into a small pillow or put in a muslin bag or seal in a oversized tea bag. Tuck this into your pillow case for a restful night’s sleep and pleasant dreams.

Relaxation Tea
A tea to help you unwind and relax, it also promotes sleep with a relaxing and calming effect.

1/3 cup lemon balm, dried
1/3 cup catnip, dried
2 tablespoons seedless rosehips, dried
1 tablespoon lemon peel, dried
1 teaspoon organic lavender, dried

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container away from heat and light.

To Use: Place one level teaspoon of tea in a tea ball or tea infuser and place in one  cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten to taste, if desired, Sip and savor.

Sleepy Lemon Tea

1/2 cup chamomile
1/2 cup lemon balm
1/2 cup catnip
2 tablespoons lemon verbena
2 tablespoons lemon peel
1/2 cup green tea (optional)
1 teaspoon lavender flowers

Blend all ingredients together and store in a airtight glass jar.

To Use: Use one teaspoon of tea to an eight ounce cup of water. Place one teaspoon tea in muslin bag or tea infuser. Fill cup with one cup boiling water and cover. Brew 2 minutes if green tea was added to recipe; or brew 3 to 5 minutes for herbal blend without green tea. Strain tea and serve sweetened with honey and lemon, if desired.

NOTES ON CATNIP TEA: Catnip tea can have a sedative effect on people and is useful in settling an upset stomach. Some research has shown that the juice from catnip leaves can stimulate menstrual flow, so pregnant women should avoid drinking catnip tea.

Relaxing Healing Herbal Bath Mix
Enjoy a relaxing bath with this fragrant mixture of dried herbs especially formulated to relax tense muscles and soothe the soul. The warm water releases the healing properties of the herbs which are then absorbed by your skin. The therapeutic effect of a relaxing bath will take effect in about 20 minutes.

6 Tbls. lavender
6 Tbls. lemon balm
2 Tbls. sea salt
2 Tbls. Chamomile
2 Tbls. Roses
2 Tbls. lemon peel
2 Tbls. calendula
2 Tbls. catnip

Mix herbs in container and store in a tightly lidded jar.  Makes roughly 1 ½ cups

To Use: Place one tablespoon of relaxing bath mix into a muslin bag, coffee filer or even a tea ball and close securely. Add the bag to warm tub water and infuse while tub is filling. Remove bath sachet
from tub and allow to drain.

Insect Repellents (for more recipes on this topic check out this post from Wellness Mama
This recipe uses the essential oil of catnip to make a repellent.  I have also used a catnip hydrosol with the other essential oils added it to make a spray-on repellent.

8 oz apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, or vodka* OR a dry oil such as jojoba
       (water will work, too, but won’t preserve the potency of the oils as long)
15 drops lemongrass essential oil
15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
15 drops lemon essential oil
15 drops catnip essential oils 

Blend all ingredients together and place in a dark colored glass bottle.  Shake well before applying.  

To Use: You can use a spray bottle or if using oil for the base, apply to skin like lotion.

Catnip Mosquito Repellent

2 cups catnip, washed
2 cups almond oil

Bruise catnip and pack into a clean jar. Cover with oil, put a lid on the jar and set in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Shake jar lightly every day, and push herbs under the oil to avoid mold. Strain into a clean jar, seal and refrigerate for up to 8 months. (If your mosquitoes are especially ferocious, you can add other strong-smelling herbs, such as rosemary, pennyroyal, basil.) It's a good idea to try your concoction on a small spot of skin before you smear it all over yourself, to test for allergies.

To Use: Rub on exposed skin.

Catnip Cat Toys

If you have some sewing skill, I suggest cutting two squares of felt about 2 inches or so on each side.  Sew them on three sides, then stuffed it with catnip and sew it shut.  This little pillow will be your cats favorite toy if they are among those who enjoy catnip. 

If, like me, you cannot sew then you can do one of two things.  Buy an already made cat toy, slip open a seam and fill the toy with catnip, or place the toys in a zip seal bag filled with catnip and allow them to “marinade” for a day or two.

Since it is all about the smell, even a toy that has just hung out with catnip will carry the scent for a while making it a fun play toy.  I place 4 or 5 toys in a bag at a time and then take them out one at a time to let the cats enjoy them.

Tincture of Catnip

A tincture of catnip can be used as a sleep enhancing mixture before bedtime. I have given more detailed instructions for making a tincture elsewhere, but if you treat catnip like any other mint you would be tincturing, I think you will be successful.  Here is a quick way to craft the tincture. I fill quart canning jar 3/4 full with crushed dried catnip then fill jar with 100 proof alcohol, like Vodka or Everclear.  Take the tincture by the teaspoon added to water, tea or other liquid before bed. (See warning above under tea.)  
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