The Dandelion

“She turned to the sunlight

And shook her

yellow head,

And whispered to

her neighbor:

“Winter is dead.”

A.A. Milne

I have always loved dandelions.  Blowing the seeds was a wonderful pastime when I was a child.  Little did I know that I was spreading the love- dandelion love.

Now I love dandelions for a whole different reason.  It is such a joy to see their little sunny faces shinning in the sun.  This always signals that the deep of winter is over.  But the real beauty of the dandelion is in the healing properties that the plant possesses. Even without reported healing properties, the dandelion has a high amount of vitamins and minerals.  The University of Maryland Medical Center has this to say:

While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals, such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.

Herbalists recommend dandelion for liver cleansing and ridding the body of toxins.  You can drink tea made from dandelion leaves and blossoms, take a tincture made from the plant and roots, or you can take supplements found in your local health food store.

If your looking for dandelions in your own gardens, look for the yellow blossoms suspended on a single stem, the yellow blossoms on branching stems are not true dandelions.  They are actually called “false dandelions”- how creative.

 

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Dandelion

 

In the photo above you can see the single stem with one flower.  When I harvest dandelions I want to get as much of the root as possible.  To do this, I use an old finished weed popper.

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Weed-popper, works like a charm

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Harvested dandelions

Once the plants are harvested, I wash the soil away and let them air dry.  Once dry, the plants are then chopped and covered with vodka or brandy.  The mixture will steep for six weeks and then be strained.  After the liquid is strained it is now a finished tincture.  I use this for my family anytime our immune system needs a boost.  This post is not intended to be medical advice, just for information- you do your own research and then make your own health decisions.

Even if you don’t choose to use dandelion for your own benefit- leave them for the bees.  Dandelions are one of the first sources of pollen and nectar for the bees in the spring.

Help For Reoccuring Ear Infections

As I mentioned in my previous post,  my second daughter had a terrible time as an infant and toddler with ear infections.  At that time, I knew nothing of alternative medicine or holistic healing so I did what the vast majority of mothers do- I took her to the pediatrician.  He, then did what most doctors do and prescribed an antibiotic.

This cycle began and continued to several years.  When there seemed to be no end to the infections, tubes in the ears started to be mentioned.  I was not excited about this because I had heard where it was just another cycle of treatments and surgeries that did not really fix anything.

Along came Dr. Tina Ingram.  She and I were friends at church and as all young mothers do we discussed what was going on in our children’s lives.  She knew of our struggle with ear infections and asked me to let her have a try at helping Savannah.  My infant daughter, Sierra, also had an ear infection at the same time so, Dr. Tina treated her as well.  Both girls had vertebrate in their necks that were out of line, pinching the Eustachian tubes preventing the ears from draining off excess fluid.

Notice the tube leads from the inner ear to the throat, this allows for drainage

Notice the tube leads from the inner ear to the throat, this allows for drainage

Sierra, the 3 month old, was a simple adjustment, she just celebrated her 15th birthday and has never had another ear infection.  Savannah was a bit more complicated.  As it turns out, she had a vertebrate wedged up under her scull.  Not only did she have ear infections but she was really clumsy.  She tripped a lot and lost her balance.  We would get tickled at her and then we parents felt like heels when we learned that her clumsiness was due to her legs being uneven because her vertebrate as under her skull- poor baby.  In case you are wondering, as I was, just how did the vertebrate get there?  Dr. Tina suspects it occurred while she was passing through the birth canal.  The bones are very soft at that time and as you might imagine, birthing involves a great deal of pressure.  When my fourth baby arrived, we made a bee line to Dr. Tina just to be certain that everything was inline.

After a series of visits, Dr. Tina had Savannah all straightened out.  Come to find out, Savannah is our most gifted athlete and rarely loses her balance.  The ear infections did reoccur for a time.  The heavy use of antibiotics had suppressed her immune system so it took time for her body to learn how to protect and heal itself again.  We began to use garlic oil as an antibiotic.  Given time, the infections ceased and tubes were not needed.  Her ears are still the weak link in her system, if she gets sick(which is rare) this is where it will show up- but with the right natural treatments she heals up.

As it turns out, we were not alone in the neck being the source of the ear infections- this is an excellent article:

Ear Infections (Ottis Media)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over five million children suffer from chronic ear infections, resulting in 30 million visits to doctors’ offices and over 10 million prescriptions of antibiotics each year. 50% of the antibiotics prescribed for preschoolers are for ear infections. Symptoms of ear infections may include mild discomfort, irritability, fever or severe pain. Almost half of all children will have at least one middle ear infection before they’re a year old, and two-thirds of them will have had at least one such infection by age three. Frequent ear infections are the second leading cause for surgery in children under two – right behind circumcision.

If you have little ones in your life, seek advice from a pediatric certified chiropractor in your area.  I believed that chiropractors were just for car accidents and bad backs- boy was I wrong.

Herbal Tinctures- What Are They & How To Make One

An Herbal Tincture is a method of preserving the medicinal attributes of an herb in such a way will allow you to use the herbs long after their season is gone.  As I have said before, the more herbs you eat, the healthier you will be.  However, at certain times of the year, certain herbs are not available.  So, by making tinctures you can use herbs all year round.  Typically, to make a tincture you steep the herb of choice in vodka or brandy for four to six weeks.  Once the herb matter is strained out and the liquid re-bottled, the tincture will keep indefinitely.

The essential oils and herbal essences are soluble in alcohol making alcohol a better solvent than vinegar for making tinctures.  Once the menstruum (plant material and solvent) has steeped, all the herbal goodness and health benefits of the herbs will be suspended and concentrated in the alcohol.  This concentration is why so little of the tincture is needed in an individual dose.

There are many combinations of herbs that can be used- select the herbs based on your needs.  Dandelion is an all around great herb with so many medicinal qualities.  I use this herb alone to make a tincture that is taken by anyone feeling “under the weather” to boost the immune system and ward off the colds and flues that tend to go around in the winter.

A small amount- 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per day is all that is taken by adults around our house.  When the children were toddlers a few drops in their sippy cups helped battle the snotty noses and colds that came with childhood.

There are many resources on the internet for recipes and several good herbal books that give instruction as to preparation of tinctures.  I like to use Growing 101 Herbs That Heal, by Tammi Hartung.

A basic recipe is:

1 clean 1 pint glass jar with a fitting lid

Approx. 1 cup chopped fresh herb or 1/4 cup dried herb, coarsely chopped.

1 pint of brandy or vodka.

 

Creating an herbal tincture

Place the chopped herb matter into the jar.

herbal tincturesPour in Vodka or Brandi, let steep for 4-6 weeks, shake weekly, then strain.

herbal tincture

Herbal tincture steeping and waiting to be strained.  Be certain to label with contents and date- the only way to be certain you will remember what is in the jar.

Once strained, pour liquid into a bottle and cap

There you go, it is that easy!

This is what I use for my family.  Research for yourself and decide what is best for your family and yourself.  This is not meant as medical advice or to diagnose illness.

Lemon Verbena- An Herb That Should Get A Lot More Press!

Lemon Verbena:

Aloysia citrodora is a species of flowering plant in the verbena family Verbenaceae, native to western South America. Common names include lemon verbena and lemon beebrush.[2] It was brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 17th century and cultivated for its oil.

Lemon Verbena  was/is used by those believing in magic and spells.  Lemon Verbena is for love- to make yourself attractive to the opposite sex.  I don’t know about all that, but after one growing season I am in love with lemon verbena!

lemon verbena 2

“This is my favorite herb,” Jonathan will reply when a customer asks him which herb he likes.  And who can blame him, Lemon Verbena has a wonderful citrus scent, bright green, glossy leaves and it grows with little or no care.  This herb is a friend to your immune system, nervous system and to your kitchen- making wonderful teas and jellies.  And of course, lets not overlook the the sweet serenity caused by dropping fresh lemon verbena leaves in your hot bath!

At first introduction, many people hear “verbena” and think of the low growing perennial with clusters of brightly colored blooms.  But lemon verbena is quite different as you can see by the pictures.  It does bloom once a year with long conical spikes bearing clusters of tiny white flowers.  The flowers are lovely and a great help to the butterfly and bee populations.

About 20 plants encircle my herb garden providing me with plenty of material for using fresh and drying.  One or two plants will serve the average home well, our home is not average given that is houses our herb business.  The plant itself will grow quite large- 4-6 ft tall, but the more you cut on it, the more compact it will stay.  It is a lovely shrub, dropping its leaves after the first hard freeze and budding back out as soon as the days get longer and the earth warms up.  With low water requirements and heat and drought tolerance, this is a great herb to grow in Texas.

The leaves of lemon verbena can be tossed in with any tea while it steeps or it can stand alone as an herbal tea.  The dried herb can flavor breads and muffins or saved as tea for the winter months when your mood and immune system need a boost.  Lemon Verbena Lemonade is a great refreshing drink on a hot day.   I also like to place fresh stems with the leaves in tact directly on the grill and lay my fish on top- this infuses the fish with a mouth-watering flavor.  I also made apple jelly with lemon verbena last week- all I can say is wow!  This recipe is well worth the time and effort.

apple jelly with lemon verbena

For health, Lemon Verbena is a heavy hitter as well.

WebMD states

Lemon verbena is a plant. The leaves and the flowering tops are used to make medicine.
Lemon verbena is used for digestive disorders including indigestion, gas, colic, diarrhea, and constipation.  It is also used for agitation, joint pain, trouble sleeping(insomnia), asthma, colds, fever, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, skin conditions, and chills.

In foods and manufacturing, lemon verbena is used as an ingredient in herbal teas, as a fragrance in perfumes, and as an ingredient in alcoholic beverages.
How does it work?

Lemon verbena contains a substance that might kill mites and bacteria.

 

 

Any time you make a lemonade, tea, or cook with lemon verbena, you are making your own medicine.  The more herbs you eat, the healthier you will be!

lemon verbena in the herb garden

 

 

Rosemary For Remembrance- And A Whole Lot More!

trailing rosemary

When folks think of herbs, Rosemary is always one that comes to mind.  We have sold a lot of rosemary which always surprises me given the fact that once Rosemary is established it grows quickly and makes a rather large shrub.  It would seem that one plant would be all a person needed in a decade.  But, with its lovely evergreen foliage, fabulous scent, and many uses Rosemary is one that people just can’t pass up.

But, I have confession to make about Rosemary.  I don’t really like the taste of it in my food.  Yes, there you have it, an herb farmer that doesn’t like to cook with Rosemary.  The flavor is growing on me as I have been experimenting with different flavor combinations.  I am also finding that with Rosemary being such a strong scented/flavored herb that you only need just a dash of it in a dish.  That may be part of the reason that my first excursions into the world of cooking with Rosemary were disappointing- I treated it like thyme or parsley and used way too much.  I am finding that just a smattering of dried Rosemary on oven roasted sweet potato fries or home-fries made with regular spuds it very tasty.  Most have eaten rosemary in some form and the culinary uses are the uses most thought of in considering this lovely shrub.

Rosemary is a great plant for landscaping- it can be used as a hedge. .  But for the herbal medicine cabinet, Rosemary is an essential herb to grow.  Thankfully, in most areas of Texas, Rosemary thrives as our winters are mild and drought and poor soil are not of much concern to an established plant.

Health Benefits of Rosemary:

A rich source of calcium, Iron and dietary fiber, Rosemary is a powerful addition to the diet.

Rosemary is used to stimulate the mind and in stimulating the brain, clarity is achieved.  This benefit of Rosemary is what lead the ancient cultures to believe that Rosemary was for remembrance and those in higher learning would wear wreaths of rosemary on their heads to help them remember all the information they were learning. Now wearing the sprigs on your head my not have helped (except for the aromatherapy) but studies have now proven that the oils from rosemary do stimulate the brain.

Medical New Today reports these attributes concerning rosemary:

Rich source of antioxidants – laboratory studies have shown rosemary to be rich in antioxidants, which play an important tole in neutralizing harmful particles called free radicals.

Improving digestion – In Europe rosemary is often used to help treat indigestion – Germany’s Commission E has approved it for the treatment of dyspepsia. However, it should be noted that there is currently no meaningful scientific evidence to support this claim.

Enhancing memory and concentration – blood levels of a rosemary oil component correlate with improved cognitive performance, according to research in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, published by SAGE.

Neurological protection – scientists have found that rosemary is also good for your brain.Rosemary contains an ingredient, carnosic acid, that fights off free radical damage in the brain.

Carnosic acid can protect the brain from stroke and neurodegeneration. The findings were published in The Journal of Neurochemistry and Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Prevent brain aging – Kyoto University researchers in Japan revealed that rosemary may significantly help prevent brain aging.

Cancer – Research published in Oncolocy Reports found that “crude ethanolic rosemary extract (RO) has differential anti-proliferative effects on human leukemia and breast carcinoma cells.”

Another study, published in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, concluded thatrosemary can be considered an herbal anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor agent.

In addition, a report published in the Journal of Food Science revealed that adding rosemary extract to ground beef reduces the formation of cancer-causing agents that can develop during cooking.

 

Protection against macular degeneration – a study published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, led by Stuart A. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, revealed that a major component of rosemary, carnosic acid, can significantly promote eye health.

The rosemary plant that I take most of my cuttings from was planted the summer before the record drought of 2011.  During that drought I could not water all my property and the bed containing the rosemary was one that received no extra water for two months.  To my amazement, that plant doubled in size- despite temps that never came out of the 100’s, no rain, and winds that felt so hot you would have thought that they were blowing straight from the pit of hell.  Rosemary moved up my list of plants I love just because of that summer.  Then I began to learn of all the benefits Rosemary has and I would never have an herb garden without at least one plant.

A couple of weeks ago I pruned the plant pretty heavy needing cuttings for propagation.  From the cuttings, I filled 10 flats containing 20 cups each- that is 200 new plants, provided all the cuttings root and prosper.  I am pretty confident they will, Rosemary roots like a dream.  Rosemary officinallis is the strain of this rosemary- just the original “plain Jane”.  I know there are a lot of more fancy cultivars out there, but this one has proven itself in our climate unlike several other varieties that I have planted. Therefore, this is my go-to plant.  I want folks to succeed when they take plants home from Hollyberry Herb Farm so I am sticking to what works.  I do have an “Arp” variety that is so far doing well and we will see, if it is still going strong next summer I will add that to my favorites list.

Jonathan and the rosemary.  What a great, tough plant

Jonathan and the rosemary. What a great, tough plant

So, if you haven’t already, plant some rosemary!  You will be glad you did.

Do you cook with rosemary?  If so , how do you use it?

Herbal Deodorant- A Recipe

deoderant

As we journey along on our path to health, herbs are playing a huge role.  The home medicine cabinet can be stocked with so much that will keep the doctor away and keep your body humming like a well-oiled machine.  One of the items in my medicine cabinet that I wanted to replace was deodorant.   It is a well known fact that most antiperspirants and deodorants that you purchase from the stores have a lot in them that our bodies do not need and are harmful to us.  Aluminum being one of the biggest concerns.  But what to do?  Body odor is something no one can live with.

At Full Heart Farm, this recipe was posted.  I have tried it and like and even one of my family who had to use clinical strength deodorant is using it and it works!  The only challenge is that the coconut oil turns to liquid above 85′.  Really, this is only a problem if your are taking this in a vehicle or airplane or you keep your home very warm.  In my bedroom this mixture remains in a creamy state. If I travel in a vehicle I simply put it in a zip-lock bag as a precaution and if I am traveling on a plane I take a long my store bought stuff. Trying to explain the jar of unmarked liquid at the baggage check is more than I care to undergo and I can’t shake the mental picture of me in a holding cell repeating, “I make all kinds of things with herbs and this is deodorant, I promise.”

So, try this inexpensive alternative- you will be glad you did!

Healthy Deodorant:

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 Tbs corn starch

1 Tbs + 1 Tsp of baking soda

few drops of tea tree oil– too much tea tree oil and the smell will overpower just about any other essential oil.  A little of this oil goes a long way.

enough of your favorite essential oil to make it smell good.  Not only do essential oils smell good, you also receive the added health benefits that each essential oil offers.

Mix together and store in a small mason jar or anything that works for you.  A wedge shape applicator sponge works great for applying the salve and it only takes about a dimes worth of salve per pit.

deoderant on displayI like to use an antique Noxema jar for the container.  I love the cobalt blue glass and it looks lovely on display in my bedroom- no need to hide it in the bathroom.

Holy Basil

holy basil herb

One of the new herbs that I have grown this year is Holy Basil. This herb was recommended to me by my good friend, Gail, because she said that it had the most amazing scent and thrived in hot Texas summers.

Well, anything that thrives in a Texas summer needs consideration and I am always looking for wonderful smelling plants.  I must say, she was right.  Holy Basil does smell amazing.  The scent is really not anything that you would think of when considering a Basil, it is sweet and citrus-y  mixed with clove and mint.  I love it.  I have not seen its performance in the summer yet, but being that it is a Basil, the summer should be no problem.

Not only is Holy Basil great for the garden, it is great for the body.  Long used in India as a medicinal herb, Holy Basil offers much to the body in form of healing and mental health.

“Healing Power: The tulsi plant has many medicinal properties. The leaves are a nerve tonic and also sharpen memory. They promote the removal of the catarrhal matter and phlegm from the bronchial tube. The leaves strengthen the stomach and induce copious perspiration. The seed of the plant are mucilaginous.”            http://hinduism.about.com/od/ayurveda/a/tulsibenefits.htm

This website lists the top 15 uses in India for this herb. Tulsi is the Indian name for this herb.

Holy Basil will grow to a height & width of about 2 feet.  As with other Basils, you will need a spot in the full sun with good organic matter in the soil.  The more leaves you harvest, the more the plant will grow.  This is true of all herbs making herbs the plants of  gardener’s dream.

So, when planting your gardens consider Holy Basil, you will be glad that you did.

I use herbs medicinally but you need to research and decide for yourself.  The information I provide is for educational purposes only.

Could You Use A Little More Thyme?

This is one from the archives, but I love this herb and thought it worth repeating!
Thyme
Lovely plant and wonderful scent
Kitchen Dictionary: thyme
Pronounced: TIME
This is one of those little plants that laughs in the face of a Texas summer and remains undaunted by a few freezes.  The creeping variety has been spreading between the rock stepping stones in my herb garden for months.  I have to harvest it or it will cover the stones.  It is fabulous!  With dark green foliage that is so petit it belies its strong flavor, it is a perfect choice for edging the bed or filling in between the stones.
For me, it was surprising to see that Thyme is classified as a Southern European and Mediterranean ingredient.  I thought it was totally southern cooking.  When you think of decidedly southern dishes such as Chicken n’ Dumplins, Turkey & Dressing, Roast Chicken, Meatloaf, and so on, Thyme is a key player in creating the warm comforting tones of these dishes.  If I am boiling chicken for almost anything, I have Thyme in the pot, too.  Nothing beats the flavor of a lightly battered filet of Tilapia with Thyme mixed in the flour and cornmeal, I don’t care who you are- that is good right there!
Being that Thyme is a perennial, it is easiest to start with a seedling in the garden.  Soggy places are no good for Thyme as it likes will drained soil.  Lots of sun is a must, but a little afternoon shade in a Texan summer is greatly appreciated.  This is an extremely easy plant to grow. 
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
With Thyme being available in the garden year round, there is no reason not use fresh Thyme in all your cooking.  Just snip off what you need and chop it finely or tie the sprigs together with kitchen twine and remove before serving.  Thyme is a well-mannered herb and is not given to being over-powering in a dish.  To a roasted chicken, I will sprinkle about 2 teaspoons over the skin or add about 2 tablespoons to a pot of soup.  Your personal tastes really are the determining factor in how much to use.  Experience is the best teacher, so give it a try.
Thyme is perfect for filling gaps in a rock pathway
However; some days it may not be very convenient to get to the garden, so I like to keep dried herbs in the pantry. To dry Thyme, cut as much as you want from the plant- but never taking more than two thirds of the mother plant- and using a rubber band, secure the stems and hang in a dry place with good air circulation.  I have a little “clothes line” strung above my refrigerator where I clip bunches of herbs for drying.  Once dry, which will take about 2 weeks, remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves in a air-tight container and store out of the sunlight.  Dried herbs keep for about 6 months and any extra you may have makes great gift ideas.
A “mini- clothesline” works great for drying small amounts of herbs
Matches well with: beef, carrots, chicken, figs, fish, goat cheese, lamb, lentils, onions, peas, pork, potatoes, soups, tomatoes, venison 
So, get planting!  Everyone needs a little more “thyme” in their day!

Garlic & Texas

As we get out and about now selling our herbs a Farmer’s Markets and Garden Festivals, I am frequently asked if I have any garlic.  When I ask questions to clarify just what the customer is looking for, I am surprised that they are looking for seedlings so that they can grow their own Garlic.  How marvelous!  Just one problem…

If you want to grow garlic in Texas you need to plant is in September, the same with strawberries- but that is a whole other blog and soapbox.  Once planted in September, the bulbs will sprout and grow all winter long then in June or so, the tops will start to turn brown and it is time to harvest.  Yes, no matter where you live garlic takes that long to grow.  But, it is so worth it and it really is easy.

To get started, you will need something to plant- right?  Garlic can be purchased in the store as a bulb.  In that bulb are many cloves.  Each clove when planted will produce another bulb and the cycle just keeps going.  So, once you purchase your garlic you will not ever need to purchase more, just save some cloves from your harvest and you will be good to go.  You can plant the garlic from the grocer or you can order from a seed company.  If you order from a seed company you will know exactly what variety you are getting and in the supermarket you will have no idea.  I have planted plenty from the grocer and did just fine.

The looser the ground, the better for growing garlic.  However, I have grown in clay and done fine.  Just dig a little whole twice as deep as the clove is long and plant the clove pointy end up.  Then wait.  You can inter plant with something like lettuce that has a shallow root system to make use of the open soil and double your harvest from the same square footage.  For the best harvest, you will need to water- but no more than you would for any other crop.

You will know when to harvest by the fact that the stalks have bloomed and now are beginning to turn brown.  Use a pitch fork or something similar to loosen the soil.  Gently pull the garlic up.  Spread the stalks on a dry and flat surface and let the cure (dry out a bit and the outer “paper” will dry).  Garlic can by stored for the better part of the year easily meaning that if you plant enough you will never need to buy garlic again.

Happy Planting!

garlic bulbgarlic plantinggarlic young plantgarlic bloom

How To Make An Herbal Tea

Passion Flower makes a wonderful tea that can really calm the nerves.

Passion Flower makes a wonderful tea that can really calm the nerves.

When talking with folks about herbs I find that one of the big mysteries of growing herbs is how to get them from the garden to the table- especially in regards to medicinal herbs.

Well, the simplest way to use an herb to make you feel better is to make a simple tea.  The directions below will seem overly simple but that is the point- it is simple.

Tea using fresh herbs:

A tablespoon of selected herb

1-2 cups of boiling water

Place herb in heat-proof container and pour water over the herb.  Place a lid on the container and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.  It is important to keep the container covered as the essential oil (where much of the herbal goodies are) will evaporate in the steam. Strain herb matter out.

Enjoy- that is it.  I like to sweeten mine with honey and add lemon.  The honey will also help with healing if you are ill.

Tea using dry herbs:

The same as above except the fresh herbs will be replaced with 1 tbsp of dried herbs.

If you are new to herbs, you probably think I am pulling your leg.  But it is that easy to use herbs.  Below is a blend of herbs I like for any winter illness that may be going on, this will make you feel much better.

Winter Illness Herbs

Dandelion Greens, Sage,  Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Catnip, and Rosemary- dry these herbs and process them in a food processor then use as above.  In regards to the amounts- there is no right or wrong.  I prefer the Lemon Balm and Peppermint to be in larger amounts due to the good flavor.  Rosemary should be used in moderation as a little goes a long way and the flavor can overpower the others.