It's an evolution of Sunday nights organic roast chicken into tomorrow's bone broth. I normally don't eat chicken any more, but for Sunday night when the kids come over I just couldn't resist making them one. The bone broth is filled with leeks, carrots, onions , fresh herbs and garlic and will cook for at least 12 hours and then turn into a wonderful 8 bean soup tomorrow.. So many blessings...Even though I'm in Southern California right now, my kitchen smells like winter and the hearth fire ....
Just recently I received this wonderful question on my Outlander Love Affair page from one of my readers.
"Hi! I have become interested in homeopathy since reading the Outlander series. I was wondering if you recommended books for starters? I am wondering what herbs should be staples in my garden, when the best times to harvest and store and their best uses? Any advice would be most appreciated! Thank you!"
In response to this question I've decided to put together a simple series that all who are just learning can benefit from. An herb garden can be planted for many reasons and many who've read the Outlander series become completely inspired by Claire and decide to plant one so that they can create their own healing tinctures, infusions and tonics. The first thing that I need to say is that all students of herbalism need to remember that these plants are powerful medicines, even the ones used simply for culinary reasons. You need to be careful with them and treat them with the respect that they deserve.
It's also important to remember that many herbs placed in the hands of a experienced herbalist are safe, but only because they know exactly what to do with them. Please ask questions first! For example Pokeweed, a gorgeous plant with large aubergine colored berries is quite poisonous at larger doses, but if prepared and used correctly can treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions of the bones, joints and intestines. Comfrey , an absolutely wonderful plant has been suggested to cause liver damage when used extensively and in the wrong way. At the same time, poultices of comfrey and infusions of comfrey are used by herbalists to promote healing of fractures, muscle and joint pain, earning it the name of boneset. I use comfrey all of the time but in the way that I've been trained to do so. By the way...If for no other reason ,you should cultivate comfrey for your compost pile. It's one of the finest natural fertilizers that we have! Greater Celandine is another plant that I used when my husband got hit in the liver directly while sparring during Karate. He had shoting pains in his side and he became jaundiced. The doctors weren't sure what to do so we brought him home and began doses of Celandine tincture and olive oil and warmed castor oil packs that I applied to his side. WIthin two days his color had returned to normal. Celandine is a wonderful herb but you must be careful. In high dosages it can damage the liver instead of heal it.
Here's a list of some herbs to start a beginners garden with and all of these are culinary as well as medicinal. The purely medicinal herbs shouldn't be used personally until you've got some real experience under your belt and besides, there's more than enough simple and safe herbs to use to promote healing for almost any malady that you find yourself dealing with. Start with these, grow them and learn to use them well.
Summer/ Winter Savory
(Thyme, Balm & Verbena)
The Mint’s ( including catmint!)
Traditional herbalism (Folk herbalism) has been around for centuries. All of the supplements for sale in plastic bottles are a fairly recent phenomenon and readily available to us in a way the equivalent of a steak or chicken breast purchased wrapped in plastic is, which is to say conveniently. They are effective and I don't mean to suggest otherwise, but they are so removed from their source that their true subtle magic is almost impossible to discern. For that reason when I am asked to teach someone about the healing herbs, the first thing that I recommend is that they choose 3 or 4 at the most per season to become fully acquainted with. Be patient and you will be rewarded for that effort in many ways.
For the sake of this discussion lets say that you will have chosen 4 of my favorite herbs to plant in your garden this year, Lavender, any of the Mints (except pennyroyal which can be very dangerous if used incorrectly), Anise Hyssop and Sage. All of these can be planted in containers if you don't have a patch of land and they'll flourish that way. Their uses are very simple to learn and apply.
Lavender can be used in teas and sleep pillows for relaxation and to help calm a frightful headache or a childs nightmares. Mints are wonderful for the digestion and a principle component of "Tummy Teas". They are also fabulous energizers and great allies to use when trying to break a coffee or nocotine addiction. Catnip (or catmint) is a fabulously relaxing mint and great for the stomach as well! Anise Hyssop can be made into a poultice to treat burns and other wounds and it has an almost narcotic energy that relaxes you without sedating you. Infusions of garden Sages make exceptional mouthwashes and gargles for icky sore throats and I always grab a leaf or two of fresh sage to chew on when I feel myself to be a bit off of the mark. Blend these four together and infuse into a pot of hot water and you'll have a marvelous tea that's relaxing and restorative at the same time!
All herbs like different soils and some want wetter feet than others, so you'll have to really get intimate with them! Watch and listen. I've got 4 different typeas of lavender right now and each wants something a little bit different in the way of sun and nourishment! Read about them, study them, draw them ,watch them, feed them and taste them ...that's how you'll get to know them and getting to know them is the key to using them. I've just scratched the tip of the iceberg! Keep a gardening journal and notice what is happening to your plants day to day. Draw any bugs that you find on them, draw any specks or spots or flowers. That's how you'll learn what you need to know about them.
Here are some simple harvesting rules for you:
Harvest Herbs after the morning dew has dried but before the hot afternoon sun
(approximately 11:00 am)
Harvest before the plant flowers or after flowering when new growth appears
Wash every herb that you plan to eat in cool water until no dirt remains
Most herbs can be dried for later use
Most leafy herbs need to be stripped off their stems before using
Store dried herbs in glass containers away from heat and sunlight. Do not store them in plastic.
Freeze all herbs that you plan to store for at least three days, then thaw , strip and dry. This insures that you'll have no creepy, crawly visitors
Label and date all dried product. Don’t hesitate to toss aging herbs as they can become flavorless! If you can't bear to toss them, use them in potpourri
Generally do not mulch them as they don't need it. When feeding, less is more. Remember that you're going to eat the end result. Please stay away from any chemical based fertilizers and herbicides. Fish emulsion, chicken poop and a container full of ladybugs and several praying mantis cases are all you'll need!
Here are some great books to start your journey with, I've got hundreds in my library but these will get you well started!
Next post we'll talk about my personal favorites....The wild allies! ( Some people call them weeds!)
I am not a registered nutritionist , dietician or personal trainer. I am a Board Certified Holistic Health practitioner. Any advice that is given is based upon my own personal observations, opinions or experiences I've had in life and the training that I've accrued.
Many don't realize this but the herbalism is not regulated nor licensed by any governing body in the US. There are no real legal title designations for American herbalism. To maintain personal standards and relay the degree of learning obtained, herbalists in America typically use the title their school or teacher gave them . Use your own instincts to determine the level of expertise posessed by any practitioner that you consider using to help you enhance your health and well being. I am of the opinion myself that this places the onus on us to be teachers who will help you in your quest for wellness and that if we do our job right you'll be able to understand and utilize these plants, foods and extracts yourself for your overall wellbeing.
" I should have warned you before that we'd likely end up sleeping in haystacks, wi' naught but healther ale and drammch for food. " "I don't mind" , I said. He nodded toward an opening in the trees, not taking his eyes off of me. "I havena got a haystack about me, but there's a fair patch of fresh bracken yonder. If ye'd care to practice just to get the way of it...?"
Diana Gabaldon - Outlander
I want you to meet one of my favorite allies; the lovely Linden tree or you may know it by it's other names, Lime tree or American Basswood. It's an easily identifiable tree with lovely boxy leaves, long pod shaped leaves and pretty seed pods. It's also the easiest tree in the world to identify when it's in bloom. All that you need are your ears and your nose! A Linden tree is also called a "bee tree" and for awfully good reason. Walk underneath one and look up. If it's covered with flowers it will undoubtably be covered with honeybees. I have been obsessed with it's fragrance for many years. It's gorgeous, clean yet floral, a Linden in full crown is the scent of warmed raw floral honey and freshly mown hay. If you'd like to smell that heady smell but don't have a Linden tree nearby , let me introduce you to one of my favorite perfumes, the lovely Jo Malone French Lime Blossom which quite frankly is heaven in a bottle combining French Linden blossoms with a touch a tarragon and bergomot...
The leaves and flowers of the lovely Linden make a truly relaxing tea that can be enjoyed at anytime and is one of the best natural nervines that I know of. A few handfuls of the fresh or dried leaves and flowers steeped or infused into a quart of water and then sweetened with raw honey is truly ambrosia. Enjoyed with a nougat cookie or a fine piece of shortbread elevates it to a truly remarkable experience. Apologies to Marcel Proust, but most of the time I'm not crazy about Madeleines:)
For me the real strength of the Linden was found when I began struggling with the moody sweaty symptoms of perimenopause. If you're anything like me, at age 54 it can be a little bit tricky to get a good nights sleep. My husband puts his head on the pillow and sleeps like a baby but oh no...not me. Menopause by itself can have me sweating , tossing and turning and if you add a bit of stress to the mix, I'm bound to be up for most of the night. Removing caffeine and alcohol before bed is very helpful, but I also have found that 2 dropperfuls of my favorite Linden tonic in a cup of warm water with some honey about an hour before bed works wonders! Then just slide under the covers, enjoy a book for a bit and doze off. You should wake up refreshed and ready to start your day!
This tonic is an infusion of some of my favorite green allies. I'm a bad candidate for any sort of sleeping pill and I'm naturally very intense, so I made friends with all of these plants quite some time ago out of absolute necessity. Everyone of them is cooling, soothing and promote a lovely restfulness without drowsiness. Hops and valerian are well known relaxants but you won't wake up feeling as if you've taken a sleeping pill. Linden is one of the loveliest nervines that I know and is used all over the world to promote rest and relaxation. Oatstraw helps to keep all of your lady parts content, cool and juicy while the chamomile and lavender are natural sleep enhancers, slowing the activity of the nervous system while promoting lovely dreams. Anise Hyssop is a delightfully licorice tasting anti-anxiety herb and the catnip speaks for itself. All you need to see is your favorite kitty rolling around on a catnip pillow to know why I included it in the mix and then there's the Rose Absolute. Rose Absolute is just such a beautifully evocative scent and is in my opinion the ultimate aphrodisiac, nervine and antidepressant. Its magical presence in this elixir provides the alchemy that ties it all together and makes it work so well.
I make this tonic in large mason jars so my measurements are for one of those!
In each mason jar layer:
2 tablespoons of raw honey
1 and a half cups of tart cherry juice
1 and a half cups of frozen (more antioxidents!) blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
3 tablespoons each of:
10 drops of organic, culinary rose absolute ( My favorite culinary essential oils are the Chef's Essences by Mandy Aftel)
Vodka (or blackberry brandy)
Layer all of the ingredients into the mason jar and top with vodka. Close the top of the jar and shake until blended. In about three weeks, strain and funnel into dropper bottles. To use, add two dropperfuls of this tincture to a cup of warm water or herbal tea. Add honey if you'd like and sip, preferably in a warm bath or wrapped in a soft robe.
NOW JUST FOR FUN!
A lavender and hops filled sleeping pillow is the perfect sidekick to this tonic and so easy to make. Just get two pieces of rectangular shaped soft flannel ( How about Tartan!) and sew them together , leaving one side open. Fill the pillow with arborio rice or buckwheat hulls, lavender and hops flowers and then add about 20 drops of lavender essential oil. Sew up the open side and roll the pillow back and forth to distribute the lavender oil. Either take it to bed as it is or heat it in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 3 minutes. You'll be dreaming sweet dreams in no time flat!
Over the years many have asked me about my old woodstove. Here she is in all of her glory! She's a good old fashioned DutchWest cast iron workhorse capable of going up past 1000 degrees really quickly once you fire up the catalytic converter! When we left our farm in Burton, I couldn't bear to leave her there, so I uninstalled her and now she lives with good friends of ours who enjoy her warmth on a regular basis.
I've written about this stove so many times that she's begun to really have a persona of her own. I loved sharing life with her, she was the provider of many a fine breakfast, lunch and dinner at Windesphere when the power would go out. Even when it didn't, I'd still wake up on a cold morning and cook pancakes and bacon on top of her broad hot shoulders. The best oatmeal in the world is oatmeal that you've put on the night before in a cast iron pot, set on top of the warming stand on a woodstove and allowed to simmer gently though the night. Add cinnamon, raisins and whatever spices you want and you've not only got breakfast, you've got potpourri!
These days, although I've moved into the city, I'm all about inspiring others to create as much self sufficiency as possible and for me a woodstove is one of the most important things that you can ever install in your home. When the power goes out and you need drinking water you can boil it, when the power goes out and you need food and warmth guess what? Just fire up the stove and you're as cozy as can be. Everyone should have the experience of cooking with fire at least once, if not for any other reason than to just know that it can be done and besides...there's no better pot of chili , vegetable soup or chicken and dumplings in the world than when they are cooked slowly on a stove just like this!
I hadn't seen her in over 8 years but we went out into the country a while back to have dinner with our old neighbors and there she was, logs ablazing, standing stalwart in the corner heating their home as capably as she'd ever done to ours. It was so good to bask in her warmth again and furthered my resolve to have a smaller version of her in place in my home by next winter.
If you're interested in a stove of your own grab a cup of tea and biscuit with jam and cozy up to Lehman Brothers and have a look around! You'll find all kinds of wonderful things to bring joy to your homesteading heart!