Friday, May 22, 2015

Beeswax Lip Balm - Weekend Recipe

This Saturday I am in Wisconsin at an Herb Fair put on by the Wisconsin Unit of the Herb Society of America.  Held at the Boerner Botanical Gardens 9400 Boerner Drive Hales Corners, WI 53130 (near Milwaukee)

It is the second show this month where I will be outside in the sun all day.  The hardest part is drinking enough water when it is warm.  If I do not the sun and the dehydration make my lips brittle.  I started making this plain beeswax lip balm to wear outdoors when doing these shows and gardening.  It is protecting to your lips, keeping them soft.

Balm for Lips
Makes 1 ½ ounces

• 2 tablespoons grated beeswax
• 1 teaspoon sunflower oil
• 1 teaspoon apricot kernel oil
• 1/8 teaspoon vitamin E oil

On a stove or in a microwave, gently heat beeswax and oils until melted; be careful to not overheat. Stir well to combine. Pour into a small, clean container, then cool completely.  You can add essential oils by the drop as it cools or flavored extracts if you want, but I like it plain in the summer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stinging Nettle - Herb of the Week

Recently I have been in three conversations about the benefits of Stinging Nettle, so I decided that it was time to research it for the herb of the week.

This week's Herb of the Week is Nettle, Stinging (Urtica dioica)

Found all over the world.  It is widespread on wasteland, especially on damp and nutrient-rich soil.  The scientific name comes from the Latin "uro" meaning I burn.  There are compounds in the leaves and sap called formic acid and histamine which cause allergic reactions in some that sting and cause blisters and hives.   Despite this drawback it was a popular plant in several countries.  In Scotland the plant was used to create a linen-like cloth that was used for sheets and tablecloths. It also has a history of magic, being associated with elves marking their dwelling place and as a protection against sorcery.  It was also used to protect milk from house trolls or witches.  In the 1600s it was discovered in New England having been brought over accidentally by early settlers, it became instantly naturalized. The common name stinging nettle is an Anglo-Saxon word for needles.  

To Grow
female flowers

Male flowers
Stinging nettle is the scourge of the gardener and the farmer because the leaves have the ability to cause a burning pain followed quickly by itching.  This is caused by a combination of chemicals in the leaves and hairs on the leaves. A tough spreading perennial, the stem will grow to 5 feet, and the root is much like mint and can spread infinitely.  Hardy to Zone 3, this plant really can grow just about anywhere. The male and female flowers are on separate plants and the plant wind pollinates so its flowers are not showy because there is no need to attract pollinators. The female flowers hang down in clusters, the male flowers stick out.  The color for both is yellowish green and they appear in mid to late summer.  They are actually located at the base of the leaves near the top of the plant. The leaves are dull green, with toothed edges covered on the underside by the stinging hairs.  This is the variety that can be eaten when young.

Nettles can be grown from seed sown in the spring.  But I am sure any one of your friends with a garden would be happy to give you a root.  Divide established roots early in spring before they out on much leaf growth, and the sting is least strong.  Stinging Nettle looks bushy, but it is actually an individual stalk with no branches.  The roots spread underground runners that generate new stalks giving it a bushy appearance.

The plant prefers a rich soil a bit on the moist side, however, it can grow just about anywhere and waste ground, field edgings, by ruins or pretty much in any nitrogen rich soil will support Stinging Nettles.  They are rather plentiful in the wide so in some areas it is not always necessary to grow your own. Be careful when dividing existing plants, as you can feel the plants wrath.

The plants will need to cut back in the summer to keep them from being invasive.  Before frost you want to cut them down hard to the ground.  They are fully hardy and will have no trouble returning in Spring.

To Use

The earliest uses of Stinging Nettle was as cloth.  Archaeologist found nettle fabric in a Bronze Age burial site in Denmark.  It was assumed it had medicinal properties in ancient times as well.  it was believed to be an antidote to other poisonous herbs, like henbane.  Seeds and flowers were used to create a tonic in wine that was taken to combat fevers accompanied by chills. 

Although they do cause some people unpleasant harm (I am one of those people!) Nettles are useful in the garden attracting butterflies and moths and making an excellent caterpillar food. 

A tea crafted from the leaves was combined with a sweetener to make an expectorant.  The tea is said to stimulate the kidneys, rid the body of worms, cure diarrhea, stop internal bleeding, and purify the blood. Nettles are high in vitamin C,which may account for years of using it as a spring tonic. A tea from the leaves has also been used to curdle milk in making cheese. 

Only young leaves of Nettle can be eaten.  Do not eat old plants uncooked.  Young shoots won’t sting and some people have consumed them raw, tossed into a salad.  The greens can be cooked much like kale or spinach.  Once boiled the hairs are rendered harmless. 

However, they should not be eaten in excess as they can produce kidney damage and symptoms of poisoning.  The plants must be cooked thoroughly to be safe.

It is worth the trouble of cooking them to eat, as they are rich in vitamins and minerals.  Whole plants will yield a week greenish, yellow woolen dye. It has a reputation for helping with hair loss and making the hair soft and shiny, as well as eliminating dandruff. 

The herb is considered a boost to other herbs increasing their essential oil.  It was even fed to livestock and chickens to increase the nutritional value of the meat and eggs. It is very high in nitrogen so making a strong nettle compost liquid can be used to fertilize the garden.  You can also compost it thus enriching you compost.  Take a bucketful of nettles, pour rain water over them and let soak for a week.  Strain the liquid and put it in a spray bottle, then spray on aphid infected plants to repel these damaging insects.  You can also pour the liquid into your container plants as a fertilizer.


Nettle is an herb used in many different types of preparations, as a result I have suggested recipes using it in the past several times.  Here are a list of other recipes to look at too:

Cough Relief Tea

Herb Remedies for Hair issues

Summer Body Splash

Nettle Soup 

1/2 lb. young nettle leaves
2 ounces oil or butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 lb. cooked potatoes, peeled and diced
3 3/4 cups of milk
1 tsp. marjoram, fresh chopped
1 tsp. sage, fresh chopped
1 tsp. lemon thyme, fresh chopped
1/2 tsp. lovage, fresh chopped
2 Tbls. cream
2 Tbls. flat parsley, chopped

Pick only the young nettle leaves, and wear gloves to remove from the stalks and wash them.  Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the chopped onions, slowly sweat them until clear.  Then add the nettles and stew gently for about a further 10 minutes.  Add the chopped potatoes, all the herbs, and milk and simmer for a further 10 minutes.  Allow to cool then put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend.  Return to a saucepan over gentle heat.  Add a swirl of cream to each bowl and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top.  Serve with French Bread.

Nettle Rinse and Conditioner 

Use this as a final rinse after washing your hair or massage into your scalp and comb through the hair every other day.  Keep it in a small bottle in the refrigerator.

1 big handful of fresh cut nettle stems with leaves
1 pint of water

Wear rubber gloves to cut the fresh nettles.  Wash thoroughly and put the bunch into an enamel saucepan with enough cold water to cover.  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid into a jug and allow to cool.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Angelica - Herb of the Week

Recently I was researching an article for Wisconsin Herbalist Magazine.  I was writing an article on Herbs for Saints.  I came across this herb in my readings and decided to make it my 

Herb of the week - Angelica (Angelica archangelica)


Also known as European Angelica or Root of the Holy Ghost, this tall, sweet-smelling herb resembles its close relative parsley and cilantro, but with a much taller more branchy and thickly stemmed look.  You can candy the stems and use as a cake decoration and dry the seed, leaves and root to use in healing teas.  The seeds of this plant are used to flavor gin.  In the evening a light breeze will carry the light sweet scent of the flowers, so do not plant too far from your back door or porch so you can enjoy this pleasant smell.

Historically this northern European native was thought to ward off evil spirits.  It figured prominently in pagan ceremonies and may have gotten its scientific name from the fact that it flowers around May 8 the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.

To Grow

This a biennial you can train to be a short-lived perennial that lives no longer than 4 years.  It does well in zones 4 through 9.  It will grow as tall as 8 feet and can in the second year spread to 3 feet.  Also in the second year it flowers in late spring with dynamic flower heads that look like great rounded Queen Anne’s lace umbrels.  The greenish white sweetly scented flowers are its most striking attribute.  The leaves are bright green and large with shapes differing from bi- or tri-pinnate.
growing wild in Alton, IL
This plant can be grown from seed or planting out seedlings in autumn. Sow the seed uncovered as angelica needs light to germinate.   You also need to grow the pant from fresh seed, so if you are not planting it shortly after seed, you will need to keep the seed in the refrigerator to keep the seed viable. You can sow seeds indoors in early spring in peat pots placed in plastic bags in the refrigerator after 6 to 8 weeks place in bright indirect light at 60 degrees F.  Angelica transplants poorly so it is sometimes better to just sow the seed in the fall where you want it to grow.  Once the seed has sprouted thin to 3 feet apart.  This plant needs large amounts of water so watch for the leaves to turn yellowish green as a sign that water is needed.  It will thrive in the shade and needs a large amount of space to grow.  It is great as a border plant and looks stunning against a wall.  It needs a deep and moist soil.  It is good to add mulch and /or compost around the plant to help the soil retain moisture.

The plant will die back at the onset of winter, but new shoots will come up early in the spring.  Angelica will bloom in the second or third year in June or July.  The flowers in a greenish color, resemble fennel blossoms and are honey-scented. Once seed is set in the second year, the plant will die.  If your cut the plant back in the autumn and remove the seed heads before they set seed, you can keep the plant living for up to 4 years.  It will also self-seed in the same location if allowed to set seed.

To Use

During the second year cut the stems and use them for crystallizing.  For use in salads cut the fresh new leaves up until the time the plant flowers. Use these leaves also to dry for culinary and medicinal uses. Collect seeds when they begin to ripen.  Harvest roots for use medicinally in the second autumn immediately after flowering and dry. Cut the stems at a node (where the leaf attaches to the stem) several inches above the ground.  Strip the leaves from the cut stems.  When harvesting seeds enclose the whole seed head in tissue or muslin when nearly ripe to prevent shattering.  Use a spading fork to dig up the roots, but do so in dry, not rainy weather.

Angelica is now best known as a decorative confectionery for cakes.  Homemade, pale green candies angelica tastes and smells similar to the freshly bruised stem or crushed leaf of the plant.  If you like rhubarb, but want to use less sugar, add a few young angelica leaves and the muscatel flavor will cut the acidity of rhubarb making it seem sweeter.

There is some research to suggest that Angelica is either a carcinogen or an anti-cancer compound.  The scientific research is continuing.

Medicinally Angelica stimulates circulation. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.  The young leaves can be made into a tea whose flavor resembles black China tea.  If you drink a tea made with Angelica before bed to reduce tension.  It is also good for treating nervous headaches, indigestion, anemia, coughs and colds.  You can also use it in bath preparations to assist with exhaustion and rheumatic arthritis pain.


Candied Angelica
  angelica stems
  granulated sugar

  caster sugar (powdered) for dusting

Choose young tender springtime shoots.  Cut into 3 to 4 inch lengths.  Place in a saucepan with just enough water to cover.  Simmer until tender, then strain and peel off the outside skin.  Put back into the pan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil, strain immediately and allow to cool.

When cool, weigh the angelica stalks and add an equal weight of granulated sugar.  Place the sugar and angelica in a covered dish and leave in a cool place for 2 days.

Put the angelica and the syrup which will have formed back into the pan.  Bring slowly to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the angelica becomes clear and has good color.

Strain again, discarding the liquid, then sprinkle as much caster sugar as will cling to the angelica.  Allow the stems to dry in a cool oven (200 degrees F.)  If not thoroughly dry, they will become moldy later.  Store in an airtight container between grease-proof paper.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sage - Mini Herb of the Week

The Men's Garden Club of Villa Park Plant Sale is this weekend and I thought I would share one more herb before the big event.

Sage is a versatile and helpful herb that can be used to flavor food, make scented smoke for grilling, add to stuffing, make a bracing and healing tea and use to clean and disinfect.  Sage is a member of the Salvia family known for its spikes of purple flowers which are very popular in garden landscape.  Culinary sage is not different, when it flowers it too will have spikes of purple.  I like the faintly gray/green color the leaves have when thinking of placement in the landscape.  However there are also other varieties of Sage too, like tri-color sage, golden sage and purple sage.  Each has the same distinctive sage flavor and properties, but they have a distinctive look.

See what I mean:

Using Sage

In addition to incorporating it into the landscape by taking advantage of the colors, leaf and plant shapes and and plant sizes, you can eat sage.  It is an easy herb to dry which is probably why it is so popular in fall and winter dishes.  It has a somewhat warming feel to the scent and flavor which links it well with cool weather, but in the summer, you can place a few sprigs on the coals in the grill to make a scented smoke that is wonderful when grilling vegetables and meats.

I like sage butter, I even posted a how to on making sage butter previously. But there are lots of places the musty flavor of sage can really hit the spot.

I actually shared this recipe earlier this year as a dry rub in a post about Winter Savory, but it works with fresh herbs too.  This is spectacular on poultry for the grill.

Fresh Herb Bouquet Rub 

1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoon finely minced or grated fresh onion
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons packed fresh sage leaves
about 3 to 5 sprigs fresh savory

Mince all the herbs to a similar size use a mincer or roll the herbs leaves together and cut fine.  Combine the ingredients together in a bowl and allow to rest for 15 minutes.  

To Use: use plain by spreading over surface of chicken, steak or fish before placing on the grill , or blend with lemon juice to form a paste and smear on the tops of meats while grilling.

Sage is a great stress reducer, but the pungent flavor is strong in tea so I suggest mixing it with lemon herbs to give a great tea flavor.

Lemony Sage Tea

Lemon Balm
Lemon Zest 

Combine equal parts of each herb in a glass jar and shake to blend.  Use 1 tsp of herb mixture per cup of boiled water to make a refreshing tea.  Also good iced.

We all know sage is good with chicken, which is why we use it in stuffing, but it makes a great flavor with as a sandwich spread to serve on top of the whole wheat herb bread.

Sage & Tarragon Chicken Salad

One (10 ounce) can chicken breast
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup finely diced celery hearts
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped fine
salt & pepper - optional

Drain the liquid from the can of chicken breast. Flake with a fork and add to a medium size bowl. Add the mayonnaise, celery hearts, sage and tarragon and mix well. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monthly Bath Blend - Fizzy Beer Salts

Beer baths have been popular in Europe for years, costing up to $60 a bath.  They claim the beer will soften the skin, make it more elastic, and promote tissue metabolism.  It is touted as great for psoriasis, eczema, and itchiness. Personally, I think it’s fun and definitely a novel & unique way to enjoy an intoxicating soak!  In our house beer is for making Belgian waffles so there is often an extra bottle or two from the last batch of waffles for me to use for this bath recipe.

There are many good aspects to this blend.  The ingredients are filled with minerals, vitamins and nutrients your skin and body need.  Always remember that the skin is your largest organ and can absorb many health nutrients. 

Citrus essential is chocked full of vitamins, enzymes, and nutrients that promote vibrant, clear skin. It’s exfoliating properties leave your skin brighter and silky smooth.  The Sea salts and Epsom salts in a bath can replenish the body’s minerals and soak away minor aches and pains.

Fizzing” in this recipe comes not just from the beer, but from the combination of Baking Soda and powdered Citric Acid. When dry, they can be stored together with no reaction. Put them together in bath water and you have an effervescent delight, especially with some lime essential oil added to delight the senses!

Epsom salts and Sea salts can be obtained from a drug store, grocery store, or health food store. Look in the pharmacy section, or the baking section. Lime essential oil can be found in a health food store.  Powdered citric acid can be found in the “canning” section of grocery stores or hardware stores, or you can get some from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Your final product can be stored in canning jars but you can use empty, dry beer bottles for a great theme.

Fizzy Beer Bath Salts
1 cup Epsom slats
1 cup sea salts
1 cup baking soda

1/2 cup powdered citric acid (optional, delete if you don’t need the “fizz”)
10-20 drops lime essential oil

Mix the above ingredients and place in dry, waterproof container.

To Use:
Slice a lime in half and set on tub edge.  Add one can or bottle of beer to hot bath. Add 1 cup “Fizzing Beer Bath Salts” to bath, slip in.  Rub lime halves all over your face, arms, hands, anywhere you want to exfoliate your skin. Let sit on your skin a few minutes then slip under the water to rinse off and feel the fizz.
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