Wednesday, February 3, 2010

of new herb study group and kitchen alchemy

Well I have some exciting news! One of the things that I am missing in self studying herbs, is i have rather longed for others to discuss them, face to face. while i am so very grateful for the internet and to have networked with so many great herbalist worldwide, i wanted to kind of focus my direction and get some local networking started also.

so our first meeting was at the home of one of local amish families home. there were just five adults but the hosting families children sat through our whole discussion group with nary a peep, except to offer us some lovely applemint tea and homemade molasses cookies:) our host is when of his churches elders and has been self studying, mainly the identification aspect, but using some herbals also, for the last 15 years. my bee mentor ron was in attendance. ron hasn’t used herbals much but as another country person, is able to identify some and wants to learn. he and i are discussing possible ventures together of an economic nature. our hosts lovely wife sat with us but really more as an observer. then there was my brother eric and i. eric is more into the gardening and culinary aspects of herbs and as he has had the nursing course he is interested in the medicinal aspects and is a wonderful asset in helping explain biological process, anatomy etc.

now my own course, so far has progressed rather in a set course. i have always had an attraction to our natural world. i grew up on a farm surrounded by the beauty of our county. i knew enough to catch and clean a fish, gather gooseberries and morel mushrooms, but really nothing at all about wildgathering  and foraging besides those things. but i was a little wild thing, more comfortable rambling our woods, streams and ponds than in town amongst the townies with their gossips, gadgets, and adornments. frogs, crawdads, sunfish, horses, cats, and my brother rob were all i needed to keep me thoroughly entertained! we even tried to rob a bee tree, but i will save that one for another day! so i grew up with no one really taking me under their wing and teaching me the ways my soul so craves.

six years ago was the start of my herbal studies. and with a new husband who loved his yard grass to be from fence to fence, for ease of mowing, it started out as a battle. i asked his advise on where i might start a little herb garden. he miserly cut out a precise foot around the back patio fence all around.  well that year i put in chocolate mint (just smells good and have to have it), lemon balm, peppermint, spearmint, applemint, horehound, chives, and a few other things.  i felt comfortable with the knowledge i had about herbs to start growing and using mostly in a culinary/ tea sort of way and regularly used different sorts. the next year i was able to get foot or so out from the south side fence and this spot ran about 30 feet. so i added some veggies, beebalms, echinaceas, phlox, rue, lovage, etc etc and got to know a bit about these things again in a mostly culinary/tea sort of way. while all this time i am gathering books. so the first four years progressed like that. just every year taking more of the yard for my own till i have most of the spots that get sun covered with a nice variety of fruit bushes, herbs, grape vines etc. two years ago i started to really get into our native herbs and plants. and folks, native to me also includes the plants that have been brought here by our ancestors from other countries. not necessarily indigenous to this country, but those that have found it to their liking and now reside here also. so i started  adding chicory, vervain, primroses, joe pye weed, boneset, st. john’s wort, etc, etc to my gardens. and my focus with my books changed also where i started buying more and more about the folk medicinal ways of using herbs and then that progressed further when i discovered blogger and facebook and was able to tap into the vast wealth of information wonderful herbalist worldwide have chosen to share. now sometimes my books included not only folk traditions but more medical minded tomes. now you might think i am digressing here from the original subject of the herb group, but just hold tight. i wanted to fill you in on a bit of my journey so you would know, i am just a grandma self studying herbs. i am not an herbalist and don’t know if i will ever feel comfortable calling myself that know matter how many years i study! but, i know what direction i am going. my goal is to learn to identify the food/medicinal plants in my county and to regularly use them. while at the same time, adding more herbs, and plants to my gardens, my daughters, and two of my brothers gardens. when you garden in town you have to be inventive;-) also, ron and i are discussing adding things to his rural property we both can utilize.

so that is our group so far. our host had the goal of our group to be lots of field work identifying herbals. i suggested that we might all gather books for local identification purposes and to learn the different neighborhoods and neighbors each plant might prefer. i couldn’t see running to the woods thinking to find goldenrod,  nor into a meadow to find bloodroot, if you know what i mean. we also kind of shared a bit about our own experiences with herbs and sources of them. our host brought out a bag of pennyroyal he had got from an herb company i wouldn’t buy from myself. luckily my brother tactfully brought up the subject of being careful of the source and explained the problems with that particular source. i had to bite my tongue though when i asked him how they used it, and was told primarily for teas. my own experience with pennyroyal, which was later substantiated through readings, is that pennyroyal, used continually by women can play hell with your moon time! one of my newbie herb mistakes the very first year i planted all the mints and things! i loved the taste of the pennyroyal and finally figured out that my excessive bleeding and erratic moon times were caused by using too much pennyroyal. i was lucky to learn a valuable lesson so easily and with no real harm. the lesson is this, to learn thoroughly all the indication, contradictions, special warnings, uses etc of using ANY herb before you use it! that is when the first more medically focused herbals started appearing in my library!

so our next meeting is the 18th of feb and i have some ideas to bring and hopefully the other folks do to. this should be fun and hopefully help me keep focused on expanding my knowledge of my natural environment and how it can help myself and my family.

now on to the kitchen alchemy!

if you remember from a post if the fall, we have a local event called spoon river drive in this county. well while on that adventure i was able to purchase a package of local hickory nuts that someone had for sale. one of the many local trees i hope to meet and get to know this year. this weekend i decided to make some hickory nut syrup with this small purchase. i wish i would have bought all the bags he had now as this syrup is so lovely. one of my favorite wild woman herbalists, ananda wilson, had this lovely post about her experience with her local hickory and i followed her recipe she shared there. her insight and information there was so inspiring i had been saving this small bag of hickory for when i had a moment to try this!

first i put my smashed up hickory nuts, shells in oil in a pot with some water to cover to simmer for an hour and then strained.


i then followed ananda’s directions for adding brown sugar and a bit of cornstarch and water mix to the hickory brew and this is how it turned out!


i only had about 6 ounces of hickory brew, so i added a bit less than 4 ounces of the brown sugar to mine. i will be trying this recipe with other local nuts throughout the year and also making up some of the hickory brew that the recipe for is also shared on ananda’s post. i did infuse my drained nuts one more time and made my own version of a wild woman brew and it rocked! then so as not to waste the leftover nuts from that brewing, i went ahead and sprinkled them out in the yard and my local squirrel colony then enjoyed them!



also on saturday i decanted the rosemary oil i had just infusing for a couple of months, and decided to reinfuse it with some more rosemary as it wasn’t as strong smelling or tasting as i wanted it. it probably would have been stronger smelling the first time if i had a sunny spot to let it infuse in, but with 7 kitties vying for any sunny window spots, i just had it in a cabinet. i think i will do the double boiler method of infusing my oils during the winter in the future. i might even rework this one the same way. i wanted rosemary oil for culinary purposes plus in my november issue of herbal roots zine, i learned this oil was good for the scalp to stimulate the hair and to help with dandruff, which my husband gets sometimes.  there is also a recipe for rosemary shampoo in that issue which is simply lovely:)

next up was gathering some pine needles from my white pine tree outside my bedroom window, to start some pine vinegar. if you will remember i was inspired to make a wonderful pine sap salve by kristine browns december issue of herbal roots zine. well in it she also talked about this wonderful pine needle vinegar that susun weeds highly suggests in place of balsamic vinegar. here is a link to what susun has to share about pine and to learn about this vinegar:)





so those things were all i really had time for saturday, as those rare days i have without children to tend must be devoted to my readings and note taking also:) besides the usual household things:( lol

so today is another free day so decide while i have some ginger and olive oil in one double burner infusing and in another melting beeswax i would bring you up to date with the herbal news of this last week.

the ginger issue of herbal roots zine inspired me to try the ginger salve making as it will help a circulation restorer and arthritis rub. when the salve is finished i usually embellish my salves with a little beeswax cut out bee, but in the ginger one i am cutting out little candied ginger bees!



a brief update on the bees. i have seen some dead bees outside of the yellow hive, which is a good sign that they are still alive, and doing a bit of housecleaning , while i see no such activity outside of the pink hive. time will tell and we haven’t seen a day near 50 degrees in a couple of months to really see any activity such as flying. so i wait to see what the first warm day can tell me



my husband keeps racing and show pigeons and for the last few years we have had a starling sneak into the pigeon house to overwinter. well, this year he has not only brought a mate but also invited another couple in! lol my husband and i can’t help but admire these resourceful birds! so this picture shows one starling couple roosting in their nice cozy home with free food and water provided and no rent! lol


see them up in the left hand side of the pic up behind where the pigeons are:)

and here is a picture of ariana, my youngest grandchild and her loving auntie michelle, my only daughter


ariana will be one year old next week!

whew, i had a bit to catch up on with you all! sending each and every one of you big herbal and honey hugs always




Lemon Verbena Lady said...

WOW, Leslie! You are so full of herbal energy! It is so great to see! Very inspiring post as always! As Bertha Reppert always said, Herbs do make a difference! Hugs to you and that sticky family! Nancy

Anke said...

Sounds like a very interesting study group you got into. It's always great to find like minded people and exchange ideas. I can't believe you've only been "into" herbs for a few years. You know so much about them... Thanks for sharing that knowledge with us!

janet said...

Wish I lived near you, I'd love to be part of your study group, it sounds wonderful:) I love reading your posts and always learn from you Leslie, I so appreciate you sharing with us.
Your daughter and granddaughter are both lovely!

Comfrey Cottages said...

thank you ladies! and you are welcome! i love to share, guess that is why i started an herb group! and i do wish you lived near also janet! anke, i don't feel like i know much at all! lol and nancy, herbs do make the difference:)thank you all for visiting:)

*Ulrike* said...

Oh Leslie! That was a great post!!! To be able to do such things with other people who are interested in it is great! I am going to read your post over again, something I do, must be the old age thing! I had to laugh about your husband having to give up a little bit of his yard. Then again with your husband's hair, as my hubby doesn't have too much anymore!!
I checked on our bees today too. We were over 50 so they were very busy. There were some dead ones too, and also they cleaned out some old wax. Have you ever seen that? So many things to discuss!!!
Hope you had a great free day! Tomorrow is bringing us rain so I guess I'll do housework....
Take Care!!

Comfrey Cottages said...

glad you enjoyed the post ulrike! and yes i have seen the little pieces of wax many times. i have a picture of it somewhere in this blog! lol when the bees open up there honey stores to feed, the little pieces of wax that they remove falls down with any dead bees. so yup, that is suppose to be that way hon! so glad your bees were out flying! i miss seeing mine:( if i locate the picture i have of the wax pieces like you spoke of i will come back and give you the link. i know it is here somewhere...

Comfrey Cottages said...

found it ulrike!
enlarge the picture and scan the board on the right. i think this is what you mean by little pieces of wax. let me know if it isn't okay?

Sarah Head said...

Lovely post - I'll be interested to see how you like the pine vinegar. I don't have any pine trees locally, so don't use them, but I'm always intrieged by the tree. We made nut teas last year at a workshop and they were amazing!

Rita M said...

A very interesting post Leslie - lot to read :o)
I confine myself to make tea - seems the safest - LOL
Take care & big hugs
Rita xx

Comfrey Cottages said...

i will let you know how i like the vinegar sarah. that is cool you had done the nut thing before. what type of nuts did you use?
rita, we all have to do what we are most comfortable with honey! love you sweetie

Brigitte said...

What a busy bee you are!
Thank you for this inspiring post.

I also long to talk with other herb lovers in a group. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to start one in our community...
Meanwhile I have my blog friends like you ;-)

About Pennyroyal, yep that's really a strong mint which pregnant women shouldn't even touch!
Some people are not aware that herbs can be harmful.

Your Hickory syrup looks so tasty!
I guess this nuts are not growing here in New Zealand, but I will check on that as soon as I have time...

Love the kindness you guys give to the starlings! Interesting the pigeons don't mind...

Send you some sunny rays from summer and herbal hugs from the island!

Comfrey Cottages said...

oh brigitte! thank you for the sunny rays! we could use them! big hugs and thanks for the addition of mentioning pennyroyal should not be used by pregnant women:)

JoyceAnn said...

Hi Leslie ~ Thanks for visiting my " Herbal Spirits " blog. I enjoyed reading your post about the study group , that's a great idea. I'm a loner in my studies too and sometimes wish I had others to talk to about herbs, but I don't get out much to meet people. I did take a class a few years at our local community college called " Herbs and Wild Foods " , enjoyed it tremendously , but the herbalist was let go at the end of our class because of a private matter and they haven't offered anymore classes. I was planning to take all the courses he offered , he had taught there for many years and was a very good herbalist from what I've heard , it's such a shame that they let him go for the little incident that occurred.
BTW , I'm just another Grandma learning about herbs through books and the internet. I've been interested in herbs for many years , but my serious study and learning just started in the last 5 years or so.
Thanks , for posting the links about the hickory nut syrup. I was planning to harvest some last year , we have a few trees around our property , but I didn't get to them. This year I will make it a priority to gather up those hickory nuts and give this recipe a try. I'm considering taking the "Herbalist 101 " internet course that Angie Goodloe is offering , since it's 1/2 price. I need to read a little more info about it before I decide. I look forward to reading your blog and hopefully learning from each other.

~ Greenest Blessings ~

Comfrey Cottages said...

hi joyceann! so nice to meet you! thank you for following my blog also:) looks like we will have alot to share:)
awww the joys of being a granny/nanny! i forgot the cute term you called it... anyway, i thought i would have a few hours today but oh no, i ended up with 2 of the grands:)
i like angie goodloe and i think she does wonderful work and is a real easy person to communicate. i just went and looked over her course and it looks very good! and what a price! i might like to do it sometime if it goes on sale again. right now i know i just don't have the time to devote to it. i am enrolled in herbmentor. have you see that site? it is only $7,95 a month and the wealth of info there is amazing:)
have a peek at it and let me know what you think! although there is no reason to go ahead and do angie's course if you can! just thought i would share where i am doing kind of "class" kind of thing right now. i am holding out to do any online more formal thing until next year when one of my fav herbalists heather Nic an Fhleisdeir is going to start one that really sounds like it will be up my ally
i am in love with a new book i have
opening our wild hearts to the healing arts by gail faith edwards. have you read it? hope you signed up to be alerted if there were any comments after you otherwise i am talking to space! lol

JoyceAnn said...

Hi Leslie ~ I blopped back over to check responses , so no you're not talking to empty space (LOL). Thanks for the info , I'm going to check-out " ".
I'll also check-out that book by Gail Faith Edwards , although I have plenty of books I'm reading right now. I have two of Juliette de Bairacli Levy's books that I'm reading and Susun Weed's " New Menopausal Years " too. But I'll keep that book in mind.
Thanks again for the info , I've really enjoyed the conversation.

~ Be Blessed ~

Comfrey Cottages said...

oh if you love juliette and susun...well gail will indeed be up your alley joyceann! whoot! i think you and i are on the same brain length here studying as juliette and susun are my favs i can relate to totally! are you on facebook by any chance? gail faith has a nice page for her farm/school there with good conversation topics and susun weed posts alot too. really excited to have met you:)

Jennifer said...

Hi, just wanted to stop by and say thank you for visiting/following my blog!

Very interesting post. I have wanted to learn more about herbs but have not taken the time to study much about it. Can't wait to read more of your blog.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

WOW, what a post!!!! and so full of great information and fun. Ok, so in a private e-mail will you tell me who NOT to buy from???

Of course you know the dangers of pennyroyal for pregnant women. It is a big NO NO.

But I have a bone to pick with you, you are not "just a grandma," you are a very special grandmother with wisdom and love and a childlike excitement to share with your beautiful little girl.


Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

Annica Janes said...

Fantastic post! I'm going to re-read it for sure.
I wish we lived near eachother. We have such similar herbal inclinations!
Thanks for th einspiration!

Comfrey Cottages said...

me too annica! if we lived close to each other... well that would be so inspirational to both of us:) hugs to you i am glad i found your blog:)
awww thanks sharon:) sending you love and hugs also:)