Sunday, November 21, 2010

Let’s Talk about Knives

I must confess to never really paying attention to knives, other than they were sharp. My husband has a nice collection of knives he keeps sharp, and to be honest, I have just been borrowing his when chopping up roots, herbs, veggies, etc. I have been known just to grab a steak knife, or the bigger ones he has, that I vaguely knew he had basically for processing wild game and fish. 
Now folks, do not judge me too harshly on my ignorance of knives, please. There is a story behind my lack of interest in learning about knives… When I was about nine years old, a friend and her family invited me out to dinner with them. We ended up going to a restaurant with table clothes and more silverware than I was accustomed to.  When our meals arrived, I looked forlornly at mine and had to shyly ask my friends dad if he would cut up what needed cut up. You see, my dad had not allowed me a knife, other than a butter knife before. I confess to being a bit klutzy, so certain he had his reason! lol My husband tends to hover when I am using a knife also, so to be honest.. I have had this idea that using knives was just not a skill I had a need to learn. My husband had brought me home a set of knives awhile ago, so I finally got them out to see if they were more appropriate, according to what I was learning with my lesson. Knives are tools, and with this lesson I have learned quite a lot about them! The top one in the picture is a meat cleaver, for whacking through bones, and the bottom one is a meat carver. Both will hurt your hands if used much, and this I can attest to as these are what I have been using! Both are excellent knives, with the tang going into a wooden handle, and riveted. But, their blade shape and size make them both wrong for the apothecary work. Seems the ones my husband had brought home were ideal for my needs. Notice the different size and shapes. The top one is sometimes called a Chef’s knife and then the smaller paring knife version of it, below.
I have since told my husband about this lesson and he said that he was just hoping to get me to stop dulling his knives when he brought home the others! I told him what I have learned and he said, “Well, I am certain my grandmother would have just used these I have also!” I said, well maybe, but I bet she would appreciate the weight and design of these new ones. He then actually hefted mine and looked them over and was surprised and understood where they would be the better choice for my apothecary purposes and would be much nicer to use:) With a nudge from this lesson, I intend to learn how to sharpen my own knives also.
Now where to store those knives, to keep them clean and sharp? Some of our knives have been stored in this wooden block , which is fine, except for one thing,
When you look at the picture of the block I will be using, see if you can spot the main difference between the two, other than the lovely painted scene by my favorite local artist, Ray Phillips,
Do you see what the difference is? It is the the angle of the slot the knives go in.  With the old block, the constant pressure of the knives on the wood, (when not in use),  and the drawing out of the knives,(when going to be used), both dull your knives! The pretty one, (I had got for a gift), will now be used for my apothecary knives, rather than being put up just as a decorative.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Herbalist’s Apothecary Tools, Labels

I left you all last with my needing to look up the botanical names of the  herbs in my apothecary cabinets, and then making new labels with both this botanical name and the common name. I also needed to do the same for labeling the different herbal extractions (honeys, vinegars, oils and alcohol, etc.). I debated on making my own labels, and threw that out the door as my printer just guzzles ink. I then did a little web search and found some gorgeous labels, but, money is a consideration, so maybe those someday…For now, I am quite satisfied with the apple trimmed designed ones I found quite cheaply at a local store. I have spent most of my free time, the last few days, getting these labels filled out and affixed, and taking an inventory of other tools that I will find useful in my home apothecaries. Knives slowed me down a bit, as I was pretty clueless on all the different types of knifes and have been blissfully just using me husbands different knives, (I have since learned are for meat and bones), all this time! I have since dug out a package of knives my husband had brought me awhile back. I am guessing now that at the time he was hoping I would use them and quit dulling his! lol I havelearned about different sorts of cloths, and what and where they would be used and the reasons why each sort was suitable for each purpose. In the pictures are some of the lovely flat weave towels my brother Eric and others have gifted me. These will become liners for my gathering baskets. What good karma that will import to each gathering session, as each of these towels have good memories associated with them:) Containers, jars, funnels, brushes, cutting blocks, scissors, tapes, strainers and more were also sorted through. I seem to have an until now, undiagnosed fetish for strainers! lol And jars/containers! I would like to get a nice copper bowl, a small whisk (I know Eric, you tried to get me to buy that one when we were in the Kitchen shop in Galesburg shopping), and a few other things. I would like a nice natural bristle small brush, some more metal funnels, and a few other things. Many items such as the pots, bowls, wooden spoons, etc. , I am satisfied with what I have already. Most of my jars are narrow mouth and in the future am going to be getting some nice wide mouth ones. I started this apothecary with what was on hand and found through yard sales, etc, etc originally, so I am very much enjoying the process of tightening up in this tool department and knowing just what will best serve me so I can keep an eye out for these items.
 My husband had this wooden cutting board stored in the cabinet. I am going to use vinegar to clean and resurrect it for the time being. It doesn’t look to be cracked up, and is a solid piece of wood, so hopefully after cleaning it with apple cider vinegar and oiling it with vegetable oil, as she suggested, it will be fine. I am thinking that I might bring this subject up at our next herb meeting, as several of our members do timber work and I might interest one of them into crafting a few.
Whenever I work in the Apothecary, I take the time to make a nice pot of tea. Today I chose Gunpowder Green tea. I just adored this woman’s explanation for the type of situation gunpowder green might be useful for
Major in the movie A Bridge Too Far: Major: "I've got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven't arrived. My communications are completely broken down.
Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?"
Corporal: "Couldn't hurt, sir."

Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Herbal Extraction and Preparation

I am learning about herbal extractions and the different descriptions and methods. Water, alcohols,vinegar, honey and oils are the menstrums we will be using. Good thing Eric and I just harvested some honey and made vinegar! I have made an infusion in my teapot, to enjoy while working.  Good thing I made it in the bigger pot this time, as my friend Val stopped in while in the middle of all this:) I will make various decoctions, extract tinctures, vinegars, infused oils, and infused honey today also.
I am also learning about fomentation, ointments and poultices. I chose to try lavender essential oil for a cool fomentation on the back of my neck for a bit of tension and headache-yness I have been having. I could feel the muscles relax and calm down as the herbal constituents permeated my skin. A different kind of calm from simply inhaling lavender! This was a muscle and nerve ending kind of calming:)
For my ointment I used some comfrey oil I had previously infused, some of our own beeswax.
I hope when you click on the picture and it enlarges, the beautiful green vibrancy of the comfrey oil is evident to you:)
Of course, I had to set the stage for the these herbal preparations by assembling my recipes I would be working on. See that cute little felt heart hanging from the cabinet door? My sweet friend Rita made that for me and it is a lovely herbal sachet:) So nice to use a clothespin to hold a recipe I am working on:) Each time I clip the pin, scent is released:) The other little hive thing was actually suppose to be a picture display piece, but I find it handy to hold the herbal recipe queue.
I adore my cast iron melting pot by Lodge, for melting beeswax and working with warming oils. It does retain heat though, and in order to get on with it, I poured the melted beeswax and comfrey oil warm mixture into another pan, to cool enough to be whipped up and then lavender essential oil added it to it.
I like the consistency of the final product and think the comfrey and lavender will work well together for the purpose of this ointment! When finished, I include these recipes in my little recipe box.
While I was busy in the kitchen apothecary anyway, I made the Varicose Vein Spray I had in the remedy making queue:)
Yikes, I need to get in the habit of always including the botanical names of the herbs, as well as these common names! I will make a new label for this while working on the other labels I need to make tonight!
Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages

Formalizing the Apothecary

 I came to herbalism through my garden, woods and field walks, my bees, ancestral call, and our families children’s eyes:) Since I didn’t start with herbs, but accumulated bits and pieces through the last few years, I had been feeling rather disorganized and am enjoying getting more organized in my learning and the step by step progression of learning how to better support, nourish and comfort my small village. Today finds me formalizing my apothecary. Seems a good idea to do that before the alchemy, so I spend the entire day devoted to straightening up the apothecary and making a list of what I do have herb wise. I still need to tweak the list and then make labels for everything with both the common name and the botanical name.I have been meaning to for a long time, but you know how it is when you have a million irons in the fire… so now I have my list of herbs and new labels right next to me on the couch so tonight when I am visiting with my hubby I can still be doing homework at the same time;-) He is being a sweetie and supportive of my time spent on this:) I expected no less though, as he has thoroughly supported and helped me with my gardening and beekeeping endeavors, also. So Wednesday I spent the whole day inventorying just the herbs and getting their cabinets arranged. So many of these herbs I have either grown or wild crafted myself that you will see in these cabinets.
This cabinet was my original herb cabinet. Due to the fact it has a glass front and is in a bit of window light, I have changed its function. 
My darling daughter Michelle, gave me that sweet little pillow. My soul sister in Wales, Linda, made me the cute little Grandma’s Remedies sign. And my sweet Katee Bug gave me the little bee and heart window cling. I like to intersperse little gifts and memories throughout my apothecary. They fill me with joy and make me pause before I ever work with herbs, to focus on the love I want to put into making herbal preparations. Time is always of the essence for me, and to see little reminders of love, inspires me to become present and focus on what I am doing, rather than be thinking of a million things still beckoning for my time:) The drawer has some teas, labels and little muslin tea bags.
See those little tincture bottles in there? Those were quite a big deal for me when I got them! I think that is when I decided to quit being just a dabbler and get focused on learning!
The cabinet itself was a gift from my husband when my herbal love outgrew my countertop space! lol On top of it, you can see my honey bottling pail. Now that tall, thin white cabinet off in the corner by the window, became my second cabinet when things kept expanding. On top of it is a big pail full of lovely wax. Eric and I are hoping to make beeswax candles this winter and some will be used in salves, ointments, and for little decorations for presents:) The red cabinet is my newest cabinet. Those corner two are holding most of the dry herbs.
For now, I have kept some of the essential oils, salves, and extract tinctures with their corresponding dry herbs, if they have one.
There is one other cabinet in my kitchen. Now folks, this took some ingenuity to accomplish this as my husband is not tiny and has to fit through doorways, so figuring out a way to get all four of these cabinets in my eat in kitchen in my hobbit cottage, well…. let us just say I think it is a miracle! lol This other cabinet has the rest of the dried herbs (each cabinet is alphabetically arranged with the tall white one being first, the red cabinet second and this pinkish one (a gift from my daughter) the end of the alphabet plus tinctures, elixirs, and vinegars we have been making this year at Comfrey Cottages:) The bottom shelf has the pots and pans, funnels, cheesclothes, etc we use in making salves and melting beeswax.
This next picture shows that next to the cabinet is a five generation picture of my mom, grandma, daughter, granddaughter and I together. We have since lost mom and grandma, but they are still here in our hearts and in my work and intentions. With their help my intentions are to make wonderful preparations to keep myself, Michelle, Lily and the rest of our family and friends, nourished and healthy working with these herbs.
Luckily, we have a small bedroom right off the kitchen, that I have taken over as part of the apothecary. There are three more cabinets in there and a baker’s rack.
The green one is for books and extra small jars. The white one has herbal oils and honeys, as well as canned goods such as violet and wild plum jellies:) Some of the bigger supplies are on bottom shelf. What is the ammonia for you say? A mushroom identifying helper:) Too many interests right? LOL But they all blend together and need tools! lol Thus… lots of cabinets:)
I can’t grow inside plants easily or well. We just have too many large trees and cats! LOL But, when my daughter gave me the bakers rack I am trying to grow just a sage and an aloe plant on the top shelf. Hopefully the cats won’t figure that out! I TRY to put the current things I am studying on the shelf. The wooden shelf is nice for garbling herbs, while looking out at part of the garden:)
And underneath it holds some honey supers waiting to be processed.
While arranging, I took the time to check each jar for freshness, using taste, sight, and smell and ended up with quite a few rejects! I used them in the bee smoker, while working my friends apiary with Eric, and they made a nice sweet smoke the bees reacted well too!
There is one more cabinet in that bedroom/apothecary area, it is yellow and holds liquor, some spices, extra bottles, spoons, etc etc
Now I need to make the labels, inventory all my tools, such as funnels, strainers, etc. And determine what I would still like or need.
Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages, from me and Comfrey Fairy! Who by the way, is mightily pleased with this tidying up around here! LOL
Forgot to mention, Dylan is starting the potty training process again! Aunt Michelle comes and visits almost every lunch hour she has, and is seen here reading Dylan one of his potty training themed books:)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Herb Garden at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Peoria, IL


St. Paul’s Cathedral’s herb garden is in their center courtyard. The garden runs under many of the offices windows, and I imagine that opening the windows, during the  spring and summer, brings an aromatherapy experience. Eric and I first discovered this hidden treasure, a few years back, when we journeyed to the cathedral’s fall craft show and fleamarket. This year was a bit disappointing. The Reverend Canon’s wife, is the person who heads the herbal endeavors, and she gets a vendors food license yearly, to be able to sell the jams, jellies, etc that she and others create, during this event. For some reason, she was unable to get the license this year, so there were none of the usual goodies;( But, the gardens themselves are an inspiration, and each year it is fun to compare the growth, structural additions, such as the new pea gravel under the windows. I imagine they had a a bit of roof runoff issues that the gravel is helping with. Plus, it makes for a non muddy path behind the row of plants. There is a nice, even sidewalk in the front of the garden beds. The courtyard also is home to the children’s play yard, so this lovely line of plants, if practical and beautiful.

stpaulsgarden2 stpaulsgarden3


It is a bee-autiful thing to be able to share these adventures with Eric.


Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pooh Bear aka Eric Tyler learns to Crush and Strain Honey

Four years ago I got my first beehive. My brother Eric got a hive also the next spring and we were off on our backyard beekeeping adventure. We try to keep two hives going in each of our backyards. Since we just have a few hives, we just use the crush and strain method of extracting our honey from our honey frames. Here is a previous post about this method. This is the first time Eric has had a chance to actually participate, so this is a little picture post about Pooh’s honey harvesting adventure tonight!






This was some of the honey from our 2009 harvest. Good thing we had a good harvest that year as this one was not near as bountiful. I have found that the honey keeps just fine in the comb until it is needed. Since we keep our honey raw, and unheated, it has a tendency to crystallize  a bit fast, so we only remove it from the comb when we run out:) Now to make some garlic honey and some sage honey:) And other yummy herbal medicines besides just as part of our diet:)

Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages


Making vinegar and Recipe for Green Tomato Chutney

When Eric and I were making the apple sauce, we decide to start our first ever apple vinegar with the peels and core.


Brigitte, at My Herb Corner blog, had shared her recipe for making vinegar. (Make sure and look further at her blog, as she did nice updates as her vinegar went along). We followed her directions. We made one in the crock with the peelings etc and then I also left a bit of unpasturized apple cider in a bottle, uncapped with cheesecloth on top, side by side with the crock. The juice bottle formed a mother, as did the crock! When I first looked in the crock I saw moldy spots on top of the mother, so I just took her out, rinsed her gently in warmish water, strained the vinegar  into a jar, added back the mother and now we have about a quart of homemade raw apple vinegar!


In the following picture you can see the vinegar from the crock in the canning jar to the left and the jar to the right is the juice vinegar. In the bowl is both mothers:)


This week I was gifted with many green tomatoes


I have made one batch of green tomato chutney, following this recipe my friend Anne shared with me. Now I will be able to use my own raw vinegar in this recipe and also, to start more vinegar with the apple peelings from making the chutney;-)


Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages:) Special thanks to Brigitte for starting me on our vinegar making adventures, and thanks to Anne for the chutney recipe:)


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Secretariat – Excellent Movie

secretariat and penny

I wanted to write about this movie for several reasons. The horse playing Secretariat was magnificent. The entire production was top notch, from casting, wardrobe, set and directing etc, set this film as a classic. The story of Secretariat is true horse racing hero story on many different levels. Not only did Secretariat, himself shine his star brightly, the humans involved with him were true examples of  hero of spirit. This is the sort of story that teaches us to follow our dreams, be bold, (but polite), assert your rights, honor your ancestors, put your heart into yours dreams, and many other inspiring lessons. For those of you not familiar with the story of Secretariat, and the story of how a housewife became the owner of The Horse of the Year, I would advise you to take a minute and read this page on Secretariat’s site.


I will tell you I am uncertain how I feel about horseracing these days. I will say I am against any abuse of an animal and that being said…

To see the synergy of  Secretariat and his humans, (in this movie), and to know it was an accurate and factual presentation of the events, just gave me goosebumps. The story of Secretariat is not just about horseracing.It is about forming bonds with others through common goals, about learning to support and encourage others as well as yourself, listening to your inner voices, and strengths. It is the sort of story that is about heroes, and I believe it a good movie to support and promote all the good qualities and aspirations we all have.

Now, I lived during this time. Secretariat was called Red or Big Red by those who worked with and loved him. Big Red fever spread through the world as this magnificent horse broke record after record, even globally. We all knew the story of the humans at the time also. They all too ran the heroes race, each in their own way. I think this would be a good movie to take a young person to see. Penny, Secretariat's owner, and her story, as well as her daughters,would be wonderful examples to encourage all the good qualities we try to foster into the young people in our life. Actually all of the people involved stories will lift all up who watch it:)

Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages



Thursday, November 4, 2010

White Tailed Squirrel



Our town has had a resident population of white tailed squirrels, for as long as I can remember. I have never seen one in my neighborhood though, so I am pretty thrilled about this one! We do feed squirrels, along with birds, here at Comfrey Cottages:) Are usual squirrel here, is so gorgeous! They are reddish with big red, fluffy tails. Not long ago, my husband and I were in a town with a black squirrel population. They were just adorable and we drove around finding and watching them for quite awhile.

Squirrels as a totem/power animal are quite fascinating. It might behoove any of us drawn to this cute rodent to think about what squirrel has to teach us. Gathering, activity, and preparedness. Exam each of these areas in your life. There can be deficits or excess that you might care to address. Anyone that has trouble letting go of emotional baggage, hoarded possessions, excess thinking and worrying a subject to death, might want to heed squirrel and keep what is needed and let go of that which is bogging them down. Take time to play, stay active, prepare for the future, don’t try to do too many things at once, and take time to listen to your inner self and to natures cycles.

I know having too many irons in the fire is one of my areas I always need to work on! I believe this little squirrel came to remind me to prioritize, to let go of some more possessions and thoughts,  to make more room for what is needed, and to remember to always approach each day with joy in my heart and a playful nature!

Big hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages