Friday, February 20, 2015

Herbal tincture for mood - weekend recipe

Recently I used an herbal tincture made with brandy to flavor the brownies I took to the Garden Club meeting.   That tincture was made with meadowsweet which is wonderfully sweet and a great addition to baked goods.

Tinctures are a great way to extract the healthy goodness from herbs in to an alchohaol base or melstrum (much like you make vinegars.)  You can then take the tincture as “medicine.”  If you are old enough you may remember that cough syrup always had some alcohol in it. 

The recipe I am sharing today is a tincture I first learned in the Essential Herbal Magazine.  It is a wonderful blend to help lift winter spirits.  I get crabby and sad when the sun stays hidden for long lengths of time, so this blended tincture was perfect for me.  I put a teaspoon of the blend into my tea each morning then have more when I get home each day.

Mood Lifting Tincture by Mary Graber
To prevent or ease the winter blues, take 1/2 -1 tsp. three times daily.

100-proof vodka/brandy
2 parts hawthorn berry, plus flower and leaf if available
2 parts lemon balm
1 part St. John's wort
1 part milky green oat tops

Place the herbs in a lidded jar and pour in enough vodka/brandy to cover.  Steep the herbs for several weeks in the vodka/brandy and strain prior to use. If you are in a hurry to use this, give it a week to steep and strain out only what you need for a couple days at a time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lungwort - Herb of the Week

In keeping with my desire to feature unusual and exotic herbs this year, I have chosen Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis as the Herb of the week.

Lungwort, a hearty, herbaceous perennial, is a popular garden plant grown mostly for its appealing spring flowers that are pink, or red when they open, then turn violet and blue, creating a multi-colored effect.  There are also white cultivars.  The white spots on its green foliage were thought to resemble diseased lungs giving it its name and making it popular as a folk remedy for treatment of lung diseases such as tuberculosis, this of course was due to the Doctrine of Signatures.  If you are curious about this doctrine see my previous post. Also known as Soldiers and Sailors, Spotted dog, Joseph and Mary and Jerusalem Cowslip it is a plant in the borage family which can be seen in the shape of purple that so matches borage.

Perennial flower gardeners will recognize this plant as it is a popular perennial shade plant especially due to the fact it flowers which many shade plants do not do in so colorful a fashion.

It is native to the northern US and Europe.  It is naturalized in many countries with a cooler climate as it grows in cool, moist areas and woodlands from zone 3 to 6.

To Grow

This shade plant that is most suited to zone 2 and 3. The first flowers on 9 to 12 inch stems, appear in early spring, and the plant continues to bloom util late spring.  The blotched, silvery-white variegated leaves, remain attractive for many months.
growing well in the shade
It makes an effective ground cover for shaded areas, but it also looks good in in bold clumps at the front of an herbaceous or mixed border.  The plant is undemanding provided there is sufficient moisture.  Water freely in dry weather if soil appears dry.

Division, preferably at the end of the season, is the easiest propagation method, but it will grow from seed. However Lungwort seldom produces viable seed, making division more suitable.  Sow seed outside in any soil in the spring, but you get better plants by dividing and replanting roots in a shady spot during late fall months.  Thin plants to 24 inches. You will want to cut the stems back in the fall for over wintering.  It can self-seed erratically.  If you do not want it to overtake your garden, always dig up the seedlings that appear in spring.  No special winter care is needed as the plant is very hardy.
Sissinghurst White
The white version is called ‘Sissinghurst White.’  It is a semi-evergreen perennial with the same height and width as the colored variety. If you grow a plant called Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), it is in the same family as Lungwort and has a similar appearance.
Virginia Bluebells courtesy of

To Use

The leaves of the Lungwort contain mucilage, tannin, saponins and sislic acid and some of these can have beneficial effects for coughs and sore throats.  Some herbalists prescribe lungwort to control diarrhea.  Chesty coughs, wheezing, and shortness of breath were thought to benefit from an infusion of the dried leaves.

The leaves are edible, though the hairiness means that they are disliked by many. The can be added to salads in small quantities. They can also be cooked at a potherb and the hairiness disappears on cooking. But the leaves do not have a very pronounced flavor. They can be substituted for spinach in some dishes, but as a vegetable the cooked leaves tend to be a bit slimy. Due to the mucilage, the best use of these leaves is as a thickening agent. Use them as a substitute for okra in West African and cajun cookery. 

Harvest the leaves after it is done flowering in summer and dry for medicinal use.


Egg salad with lungwort
½ cup lungwort leaves, washed and finely shredded
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into rings
1 small lettuce (ie little gem), shredded
½ cup mixed salad leaves
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbls. mayonnaise
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Arrange the lettuce on the base of a serving dish and top with the sliced eggs. Top the eggs with the mixed salad leaves. Mix together the spring onions, mayonnaise, lungwort leaves and seasonings in a bowl. Use this to top the salad and serve immediately.
This is a twist on a traditional Louisiana Filé gumbo. This is a traditional stew that incorporates filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves) as a flavoring and thickener. Lungwort leaves are substituted as the thickening agent in this version.

Lungwort Leaf Gumbo
½ cup butter
4 celery sticks, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 parsley sprigs, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup flour
4 Tbls lungwort leaf powder
8 ½ cups fish stock or water
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
1 chili pepper, finely chopped
¼ pound smoked ham, diced
¼ pound hot sausage (chorizo is good) cut into ½ inch slices
1/3 pound prawns, shelled (reserve shells and heads for stock)
½ pound firm white fish, cubed
salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the butter in a large soup pan and heat to melt. When nicely melted and sizzling add the celery, onion, parsley, bell pepper and garlic. Fry over a low flame for about 20 minutes, or until the onion is soft and golden then add the flour and lungwort leaf powder. Stir the mixture constantly for about ten minutes to form a roux then add the stock and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer then cook for about 20 minutes before adding the ham, fish and sausage. Continue cooking for a further 30 minutes. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly then add the prawns and thyme. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes then adjust the seasonings and serve on a bed of rice.

Lungwort Tea
1 Tbls dried lungwort leaves (or lungwort leaf powder)
1 ¼ cups boiling water
honey, to taste

Warm your teapot and rinse clean. Add the lungwort leaves to the pot and pour over the 300ml boiling water. Cover and set aside to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a cup or mug, sweeten to taste with honey and serve. Herbalists recommend that this is taken three times a day. Whether or not the tea has any medicinal benefits, the mucilage from the lungwort leaves combined with the honey will help relieve a sore throat.

Here is an old chest cold recipe:

1 part Anise seed
2 parts Coltsfoot leaves
2 parts Lungwort

Steep 2 tsp. in 1/2 cup boiling water. Add this tea to 1-1/2 cups althea tea which has been prepared by soaking 1 tbsp. althea root, leaves and/or flowers in 1/2 cup cold water for 8 hours. Take the mixture with honey, in mouthful doses.

This is an old recipe and I would consult a doctor or herb practitioner before making this to self-treat.  See my post earlier this month on Coltsfoot.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mini Cheese Balls - Weekend Recipe

Quick appetizers or just right snacks.  These are great because they average about 100 calories each if you use regular cream cheese and 50 calories each if you use Neufchatel, the light cream cheese.

Mini Cheese Balls – a Savory Truffle
adapted from a recipe from Sargento

8 oz. cream cheese at room temp
1 cup shredded firm cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, pepper jack, monetary jack)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and fresh pepper

Combine cream cheese, shredded cheese and Worcestershire sauce with lemon zest in a large bowl.  Add salt and pepper.  Divide mixture into fourths.

Into each of the four portions choose ONE of these blends to add.  You can make 4 different blends!
            1 tsp. Butter N Cheese blend from the Backyard Patch
            1 tsp. Boursin Blend from the Backyard Patch
            1 tsp. Herbal Spread blend from the Backyard Patch
            1 tsp. Fiesta Dip blend from the Backyard Patch

Form each portion into 1-inch balls with damp hands and set on a baking sheet.  Chill until firm, about 4 hours.  Then roll the balls in any of these assorted toppings.  The herbs add no calories!

  • Chopped nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crumbled cooked bacon mixed with paprika
  • Chopped fresh herbs
  • Dried crumbled herbs (or Herb Mix, like Herbal Spread by the Backyard Patch)
  • Chopped dried raisins or cranberries (very Valentine's Day festive!)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Weekend Recipe - Green Goddess Dressing at home

Salad in the winter is so important.  It brings fiber and moisture into your diet.  But dressings seem bland in winter so they need a bit more zest.  If you have not tried a Green Goddess Dressing this will be a great bit of zest to add to your winter salad.

Green Goddess Dressing 

1/2 cup butter milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbls. lemon juice
1 anchovy filet (for authentic flavor)
2 Tbls. BYP Green Chervil dressing mix
1 fresh garlic clove, minced (optional)

Blend together in a jar or cruet and shake well. Serve over greens.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Herbal Love Bath - Bath Blend of the Month

Herb Bath Blend of the Month.  It is February the month of love.  So I chose a blend of herbs that all have a meaning related to love.
Lavender: Devotion
Lemon Balm: Called Heart’s delight
Chamomile: wisdom, patience
Rose petals: inspiration to lovers

Herbal Love Bath Tea
½ cup dried lavender flowers
½ cup dried lemon balm
½ cup dried chamomile flowers
½ cup dried rose petals

Mix all ingredients together and package into small muslin sacks (3” x 3”). Add about ½ cup to each bag.  Tie a ribbon around a stack of four to give with the following directions.

To Use:
Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the pouch of herb tea. Let steep for 30 minutes. Draw a nice warm bath. Just before stepping in, pour in bath “tea” along with the pouch of herbs. Relax as long as you want in this wonderful bath. Rub the pouch of herbs on your skin for added pleasure.

We make a special Lover's Tea Blend for Valentine's Day that you might enjoy along with this bath blend.  You can find it on Etsy in our Seasonal Herbs section.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Coltsfoot - Herb of the Week

Pliny the Older, the Roman herbalist, considered this odd plant one of the best herbal remedies for coughs, so I felt s we received more than 2 feet of snow this week it was a perfect time to highlight, 
       Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara as Herb of the Week.

This hardy perennial reaches 3 to 12 inches tall with small white spreading roots and toothed dark green leaves having a gray underside.  Small yellow flowers appear in the Spring and only after these flowers go to seed will the plant develop leaves.  
courtesy of wikipedia
In fact its scientific name comes from the Latin word tussilago which means cough plant.  Nicholas Culpeper detailed how using cloths dipped in Coltsfoot water could be used to relieve piles. Even Native Americans used this abundant herb for treating coughs and congestion.  One unique treatment was to soak blankets in the Coltsfoot the hot liquid to wrap around the patient.

Medieval monks created a catalog of herbs and flowers in the form of a calendar.  They chose January 27 as the day for Coltsfoot. the common name Coltsfoot comes from the shape of the leaf which loots like the hoof of a horse.

To Grow

This plant is naturalized in the US, but is originally native only to Europe.  Grows well in zones 4 to 6, it prefers full sun.  This is an easy grower that can easily become invasive.  Sow directly in spring and take root cuttings in spring and fall.  In fall you can divide existing plants. It has a tendency to overrun an area and is not a favorite fro most in a perennial garden.  It is however great in a landscape, especially along creek or stream banks and in natural habitat gardens.  It will thrive in almost any soil and prefers full sunlight. 

To Use

Historically the fresh leaves were used in a salad, and the young leaves could be sautéed as a side dish of greens or fried in a batter. Use dried leaves are include in herbal tobaccos.  The fluffy seed heads were collected and used as mattress stuffing by Highlanders.  The leaves are so strong and hold thier shape they could be used as a substitute for paper (well maybe more like a post it note).  The fuzz was rubbed off the bottom of the leaves and wrapped in cloth tipped in salt peter to be used as a fire starter too.  Those same leaves were used to make a green dye.  Recently I found several recipes using it in a hair growth formula. You might want to check out this post On Curly Nikki.

Coltsfoot leaves
All parts of coltsfoot contain a mucilage, which is good for coughs and bronchitis.  Decoct leaves for colds, flu and asthma.  A strong tea made from by boiling the leaves was given to coughing and wheezing patients.  The tea was strained and sweetened with honey or licorice.  I found an old recipe of equal parts of coltsfoot, horehound and anise seed makes an effective bronchitis treatment.  Lozenges made from Coltsfoot can be used as cough drops.

The principal active ingredient in coltsfoot is a throat-soothing mucilage.  Its reputation is deserved. However studies on the flowers that appear before the leaves showed they cause cancerous tumors in rats.  As a result of these studies, coltsfoot leaves are considered unsafe too.  However you can still use Coltsfoot for an herbal dye to create green-yellow and in herb-based fertilizers because it adds sulfur and potassium to the soil.  For more info on making natural dyes, check out this article.



Cough up Remedy
1 ounce coltsfoot
1 ounce fennel
1 ounce speedwell
½ ounce  violet root
Mix the ingredients. 3 tablespoons put in 4 cups of boiling water and cover. After 2 hours, strain, sweeten and every two hour take a tablespoon full.

Sore Throat and Hoarseness Remedy
1 ½ ounces coltsfoot leaf
2 ounces marshmallow root
1 ounce licorice root
½ ounce violet root

Mix the ingredients and store in a jar. Add 3 tablespoons to 4 cups of boiling water and cover for 10-15 minutes. Strain, and boil the liquid again. Sweeten and drink two cups per day.

To make this more flavorful add 2 ounces of chamomile flowers.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Herbs to grow if making seasoning blends

I generally write one or two blogs with a list of herbs to try out in your garden.  I am still working on my top 10 for 2015, but I thought this list might be useful too.

Thinking about what you want to get out of your herb garden is important to deciding what you should grow.  So if what you want is to make seasoning and dressing blends, this list of herbs may be just what you want to consider.

Being able to grow the herbs that you can later use to create herb mixes is the best way to control the flavor of your dishes. Creating custom blends is the preferred choice for so many cooks, especially when you know what flavors and rubs your family likes that most.
So when contemplating your garden contents this year consider adding these herbs to your garden.

Fennel is not an herb that you find in a lot of home gardens, but it is used in a lot of different ways because it has a sweet, slightly licorice flavor. A lot of Italian based seasonings use it, but it is also used in Indian and Asian based blends. Fennel needs very loose soil to grow successfully in and as the bulb expands, you should hill the soil around the bulb. The flavor packed seeds are what you will be using for the spice blends and rubs, but do not neglect trying the leaves in salad dressing and the bulb as a vegetable.

Oregano is a popular meat dish herb, and is used in a lot of Latin American and Mediterranean herb mixes. The way the herb is grown greatly changes the amount of flavor in the leaves. Keep this plant in full sun and well watered, but avoid letting water sit in the soil. Oregano likes poor soil, so don’t plant in rich soil and don’t bother to fertilize it. Pinch leaves off or cut the stems from the plant and hang to dry.


A main ingredient in Pesto and any Italian seasoning, basil is a classic herb that can be used in so many combinations. Add this herb to the garden when the danger of frost has passed and make sure that it is able to get at least 6 hours of sun. Basil does prefer good soil, so a container is ideal and continuous water is needed as well. Harvest the leaves continuously and snip off any flower heads throughout the growing season.  Dry them as you go on paper towels.  Use the fresh leaves in salads for a nice peppery flavor.


Rosemary is an herb mix ingredient for combinations that are used to cook poultry and red meat. The plant is best added to the garden as a transplant, and can handle being added to poor soil, rock gardens, in a container or as a second planting in a garden. Grow in full sun, allowing for the soil to dry out between waterings for the best flavor results. Harvest stems to dry and then remove leaves to add to mixes.  The dried flavor is much more intense than the fresh so use sparingly.  Fresh it is wonderful in herbal vinegars and salad dressings.


I cannot give a list without suggesting some thyme.  Depending on the flavor profile you want for your dressings and rubs, a common thyme or lemon thyme will give you the best options. Grow outdoors as a perennial herb, or in a container in a sunny spot. It is able to thrive in poor to nutrient rich soil, but needs to be added as a transplant in order to be able to survive in a garden with less than ideal soil. Before the herb begins to flower, snip stems and place in a paper bag to dry. Strip the tiny leaves from the stems and only add the leaves to your mixes.  The stems are sharp and tasteless.

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