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.

How To Make Herbal Tea

lemon sage tea on wood

Cool weather makes one want a nice cup of hot tea, and an herbal tea will not only warm the soul but it will boost your immune system as well.

To Make A Tea:

Place one teaspoon of dried herbs in a  tea bag, a tea egg, or loose in a cup and pour hot water over the herb, cover and let steep for five minutes.  Remove bag or egg if using.  Sweeten with honey & add a shot of fresh lemon juice, if desired.

Enjoy!

Yes, teas are that simple.  By covering the tea while it steeps, you are keeping the essential oils in the tea.  Otherwise, the essential oils can evaporate into the air along with the steam.  Also, you can substitute a tablespoon of fresh herbs for the dried herbs.  You can also add herbs such as lemon balm and mint to any green or black tea while it steeps.  This not only adds flavor that is just scrumptious, but it adds lots of health benefits, too.  Such a boosting the immune system, relieving stress, calming the nerves, and calming the digestive tract.

Another tip to improve the flavor of you tea, is to heat the water just till the boiling point.  Then remove the water from heat and pour over the tea.  By doing so, the water will contain more oxygen and this leads to a less bitter tea.

A great combination for a tea to boost the immune system and brighten your mood, is lemon verbena, lemon balm, pineapple sage, and sage.  I blend this tea and sell it at our farmer’s market.  It tastes great and makes the body feel good.

Herbs are easy to grow and easy to use, every one should be growing some.  Even if all you have room for is a pot of mint on a window sill, you will benefit from it.

Herbs Make The Difference!

lemon sage tea with window shadow

Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries with Rosemary

I must say that for years, I had an aversion to sweet potatoes.  The only form in which I had ever encountered them was creamed with marshmallow on top.  While most of my family loved these at Christmas, I did  and do not.  Not until my husband requested sweet potato fries did I reconsider this versatile vegetable.  Now, I can’t imagine a pantry that is not stocked with a box of sweet potatoes.  I love to chop one up and add it to vegetable soup.  While sweet potatoes are on the sweet side of life naturally, they are not so sugary that they would ruin a good savory soup.  On the contrary, they add a depth of flavor and texture along with a great punch of vitamins, flavor, and anti-oxidants.

As oven roasted fries, sweet potatoes are fabulous with a caramelized outside and a tender yet firm bite.  These compliment any meat dish and pair well with rice, quinoa, and most other grains.

For a simple, non- processed meal, sweet potato fries are a great side.  Easy to make, very healthy, and quite tasty- a great recipe.  This is the time of year to purchase sweet potatoes, they keep for months so you can buy them in bulk at your local farmer’s market and stash them to grace your table all winter.

 

Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries With Rosemary

Serves 6

 

4-6 Sweet potatoes

Olive Oil

2 Tsp. dried Rosemary

Sea Salt to taste

Slice sweet potatoes into French fries.  Place on cookie sheet, cast iron skillet, or baking stone. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat, sprinkle with rosemary.

Place in a 450’ degree oven for 20-30 minutes.  Cook until tender with a nice bit of caramelizing.  After 15 minutes, give the fries a stir flipping the potatoes over.

If you are not a fan of Rosemary, just omit the herb.

sweet potato friesSweet potato fries prepped and ready to go into the oven.

sweet potato friesOven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries, cooked and ready to into my mouth!

Try some, you will be glad you did.

 

 

Grasshoppers & NOLO Bait

A nasty little beast eating the Kale
A nasty little beast eating the Kale

I once read in a gardening book that grasshoppers are usually present but don’t do much in the way of damage.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding!  There is a place on earth where grasshoppers don’t do damage?!”  If there is a place- it is certainly not in Texas.  Here, grasshoppers give a very living example of the plague that Moses sent on the Egyptians.  The grasshopper will eat any vegetation in site and leave nothing but skeletal stalks behind.  And once the grasshopper has matured, poisons will not kill them.

So what to do?  I have found NOLO Bait to be very effective.  NOLO Bait is bran flakes coated in Nosema locustae- a microbial agent that infects only grasshoppers and either kills them or makes them too sick to eat.  This is awesome! Then, the healthy grasshoppers move in and eat the sick ones (grasshoppers are cannibalistic) and then they get sick further spreading the disease.  All the while, no other good bug or bee or humming bird is bothered by this illness.

So how is this accomplished, exactly?

From the website: http://www.goodbug.com/nolobait.html#HowWork

How exactly does Nolo Bait™ work?

Once the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae spores are ingested by the grasshopper they become activated in the grasshopper’s mid-gut. The spores germinate or extrude a filament from the cell wall. In the process of extruding this filament, the spores pierce the mid-gut wall of the grasshopper and in very young grasshoppers death usually occurs very quickly. This is due to septicemia or bacteria invading the grasshopper and causing death. In more mature grasshoppers the spores continue to reproduce, utilizing the fat body of the grasshopper for energy. As the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae population increases inside the grasshopper it becomes lethargic, reduces its feeding and has lowered reproduction capability. In addition, grasshoppers are quite cannibalistic and healthy grasshoppers will feed on their slow, sickly companions. This enables the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae to spread throughout the population and infect other grasshoppers that migrate into the area. Infected female grasshoppers can also pass the infection along in the sticky substance that surrounds the egg pods. As the newly hatching grasshoppers chew their way out of the egg pod they also become infected and will mostly likely die before reaching the first molt.

The grasshoppers love the bran- it’s like crack cocaine for them.  Once you spread the bait out on your plants you will see them feeding heavily.  You will also see a lot of damage in that area to the plants at first.  The picture above is the first area I spread the bait this year and the grasshoppers have fed there the most.  I am now starting to see some damage and more grasshoppers but this bed is just about done, here in Texas is is now hot and the kale is turning bitter so I am leaving it for the grasshoppers to feed on knowing that the sick ones are there and any new comers will eat the sick ones and then spread the disease.  When you garden organically you have to get used to the idea that it is a process, one that takes time to turn the tide.  This is the first year for us at this new place so I may have some problems with grasshoppers, but by being patient I can kill them at the root of the problem while not harming our bees, birds, or other good bugs.

It is best to spread NOLO Bait at the first sign of grasshoppers- when the are about 1/2 inch to an inch long.  At this stage the grasshoppers will be killed by the infection.  However, if you feed it when they are larger you will still infect the population with the disease that will continue to spread for several years.  As you can see, if you start using this bait and your neighbors start using this bait and you put it out 2-3 times per season, you can really do some damage to the populations of grasshoppers in your area- for the long term.  Spraying poisons just kills what grasshoppers are there (if it kills them at all) but does nothing to stop the cycle of the grasshopper.  The use of broad spectrum poisons is a bad process and not an effective management tool.

Kale and grasshoppersThis bed of Kale looks like an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet to the new arrivals, but it is like a loaded gun.  “Come and eat my pretties” it says, but all the while death awaits.  I may seem a bit dark in the way I enjoy death and destruction of the grasshoppers- but once you have watched your gardens be invaded and every leaf stripped bare you realize its you or them.  Nature is a tough place to live.

Add NOLO bait to your arsenal this year, you will be glad you did in the long run. NOLO Bait can be ordered on line or purchased at a feed store or garden center that carries organic gardening supplies.

What is your biggest problem in your gardens?

Just To Be Straight With You..

If you are growing your own greens, such as Kale, Collard Greens, Turnip Greens, Or Chard, I am going to level with you- at some point you are going to find a worm in your pot.  No matter how many times you wash them and how thoroughly you pick over the greens at some point you will miss one.  Don’t worry, the meal is not ruined, just fish the little guy out and dump him in the compost bin. I just want you to know what you are getting into when you start growing your own organic greens.

Probably 95% of the time, the worms on your greens will be cabbage loopers.

Common Name: Cabbage looper Scientific Name: Trichoplusia ni (Hübner) Order: Lepidoptera cabage looper

Description: The caterpillar (larva) grows to be about 2 inches long, is light green and has three pairs of “true” legs behind the head plus pairs of fleshy “false legs” (prolegs) on the 3rd, 4th and last or 6th segments behind the segment with the last pair of true legs (the abdominal segments). This arrangement of legs causes the caterpillar to crawl with a “looping” motion, similar to that of inchworms. Some specimens are marked with light stripes along the body. Adult moths are mottled grayish-brown with a 1 1/2 inch wingspan. Each forewing is marked near its center with a pair of characteristic silver markings: a spot and a mark resembling a “V” or and “8” with an open end.

 

This article from Texas A&M goes on to say that the worms are “medically harmless” meaning that you can boil them in your pot and be fine.  You could even eat one and be fine.  I must say that unless I find myself in the Outback of Australia with Tom Selleck having just been saved from death by the Aborigines, I am not eating worms on purpose.  But, it is nice to know that no one will die if it happens while eating organic Kale from my garden.

You can control the worms organically with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  This is a bacteria that makes the worms sick and either kills them or causes them to stop eating- which will result in death.  This bacteria only effects worms, so the lady bugs and other “good guys” in the garden are safe and will not be harmed.  But, of course, this should not be used in a butterfly garden as it will kill all worms, caterpillars included.  Bt will also kill tomato horn worms and other pests like these.  Chickens will also control the worms but the downside to this program is that the chickens will eat more Kale then the worms.

Also, you need to know that just because your Kale or other greens may have been chewed on by worms, it is not ruined.  Just pick the munched on leaf and chop it up as usual.  Once cooked, you will never know the difference.

You should be growing greens, by the way.  They are nutrient dense, easy to grow and like cool weather.  This means that in Texas, we can grow the from August/September until May or June.  I have greens such as Chard, Kale, and Spinach in my garden almost year round.  So, put them on your “must have” list for the seed order. You will be glad you did!

KaleDon’t worry about a few holes.  If you garden organically, you will have some.

Choosing Seedlings

Nice strong plants with a large cup for plenty of room for roots
Nice strong plants with a large cup for plenty of room for roots

Each year I encounter folks who want to know why their seedling died or simply state the “I cannot grow anything”. I hate hear these words!  The main reason that people fail at gardening is not because they can not grow things or that they are lacking in ability, it is because they start with seedlings or plants that were set up to fail.

Perhaps you are wondering how a plant can be set up to fail?  Well, here is how-

Most of your big box stores or really large retail nurseries get their plants from contract growers.  Contract growers are growers that grow plants for these companies and may be independent, but they are controlled by the big box companies.  An example of  the way the growers are controlled is by the company telling the grower I want this certain plant and this many of this plant in 4 weeks. Now the grower can respond with “That is a plant that takes 8 weeks to grow.”  Then the company simply replies that they don’t care, do it or they will find someone who will.  So the grower then pumps the plant full of synthetic fertilizers, stimulants and even chemicals that cause fruit and plants to ripen prematurely.  Greenhouses are kept at the perfect temperature at all times and grow lights are employed top achieve the most growth in the least amount of time.

 

Now, after having read that- just how strong of a plant to you think you are going to get from that store?  Not a strong plant at all.  The odds are that plant will die as soon as it is exposed to the real world.  If it does live, it will probably never produce as it should.  So you see, most people who think they cannot grow things really just never had a shot.  Those who do know a bit about how to grow things don’t understand why their stuff dies- it all goes back to the beginning.

Now, consider the small grower, the “mom & pop” garden shop.  These people cannot afford to have unhappy customers who tell folks that every plant they have ever bought from that shop has died.  My customers know my face, know where I live, and my name is literally on the product.  If my customers don’t succeed, I don’t succeed.  I chose this business because I love it.  I WANT my customers to be successful and to enjoy their experience in the garden.  So, therefore, if I tell you it is too early for Basil it is because it is.  Most of the other “small guys” grow like I do.  We seed our flats to have the plants ready at the right time.  I fertilize my plants of course, but I use an organic compost tea once a week.  Not daily.  If you buy a six pack of tomato seedlings that are 8 inches tall- those plants are already stressed.  Those plants are too big for the pot they have been living in for way too long.

It may cost you a little more to buy seedlings from a smaller producer, but you will get better plants.  If you are buying vegetable seedlings, you will get more produce from a plant that has been handled properly from the start.  And, you will feel successful not like a failure!  This makes it far worth a little more money up front.  If you are really strapped for cash, then you will do much better to buy seeds and start your own plants in a sunny window.  Cheap seedlings from big box stores are not the place t0 save money, especially when you are wanting to grown your own food.

Our First Wholesale Customer!

Spring is such a busy time around any farm.  With all the clearing and planting that needs to be done it can be crazy.  When your business is one that involves selling the plants to the folks who are busy planting, spring business can take on a whole new dimension.  One of the goals of Hollyberry Herb Farm is to eventually be a wholesale dealer of organic herbs.  So, I am proud to announce that we have our fist wholesale customer!

green grocer

This is a great grocery store offering local produce, pastured meats and poultry as well as household items such as soaps and such. The owners are a wonderful couple who are committed to providing “real” food.   They are great to work with and really do support the “little guy”.  Definitely a unique place to shop and a wonderful way to support small business and small farmers.  If you are ever in Dallas, stop by and check it out- You will be glad you did!

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

Potatoes In A Tower

If you are trying to remove GMO products from your diet, one of the must go items is potatoes.  These have been GMO for years.  So, as we are working daily to eat better, eat real food and eat local- it was time to grow potatoes.  Now, according to my  great-grandfather Valentine’s Day is not only a day for love but for planting potatoes.  Well, I am a bit late this year, but it just was not possible to get it done in February.

So, week before last the day came.  Jonathan and I got busy and planted potatoes.  This year I am trying potato towers.  Potatoes are one of those plants that will produce roots along every bit of stem that is covered in soil or compost and then grow taller.  So, the idea behind the tower is to get soil and plant going just as high as possible giving you the most produce in the smallest amount of square footage.  Growing vertical is a great way to maximize a small growing area.

To make a potato tower, you will need seed potatoes, wire, straw, and compost.  Dig out a circle about 18-24 inches in diameter & 2 inches deep.  Place the seed potatoes in the hole and cover with soil.  Wrap enough wire in a circle the size of the hole and fold the ends over each other to fasten it together.  We used stakes that keep our weed barrier in place to hold the towers down.

So, here goes nothin’.  We shall see how this goes.  I am really looking forward to good tasting, home grown potatoes!

Digging out the grass and soil to plant potatoes
Digging out the grass and soil to plant potatoes
putting the seed potatoes in the soil
putting the seed potatoes in the soil
Staking down the towers
Staking down the towers
close up of stake
close up of stake
All finished, now we just have to wait!
All finished, now we just have to wait!

Making Hard Cheese- A Great Class

Is this not beautiful?
Is this not beautiful?

I spent Saturday at Falster Farms in Winnsboro, Texas learning how to make hard cheese.  Nancy Falster taught the class and she and her husband, Karl, own and operate Falster Farms- a sustainable family farm growing food that is “fit to eat.”  These are great people who are passionate about living in such a way that there is a better piece of land left for the ones who come behind them and in the mean time, they are raising and growing wonderful food.

I learned so much in this class about food in general.  Nancy shared so much more than just steps A-D, so to speak.  Not only did we learn the process of making hard cheese, we made several soft cheeses, learned of ways to preserve the cheese and got to sample several different kinds.  There is a whole world of cheese out there and I am so excited about getting into it!  Now, after the class, I feel that I can order the cheese making supplies with confidence knowing what each ingredient is and what it’s purpose is in the process.  Nancy also shared some tips on choosing equipment such as presses and thermometers, of course lots of experience that was gained from what didn’t go as planned.

Chef Nancy Falster at work on the cheese.
Chef Nancy Falster at work on the cheese.

One of the best parts of the class was lunch or dinner you would call it if you are from the South.  Dinner happens mid-day and super is the evening meal.  It was so good, a Shepard’s pie made from grass-fed beef raised on their farm, local sweet potatoes and other goodness.  One of her class helpers and good friend brought this heavenly homemade bread to share with us.  The bread was just as gorgeous as it was delicious and we even got the recipe.  There was a wonderful salad and of course some great cheese.  Desert was wonderful, this blueberry thing that I can’t remember the name, but it was so good.  One thing that we all tried was fermented food- onions, radishes, relishes and such, done in the whey left from the cheese making process.  I had never had this before and not only did it taste good, I learned about all the health benefits of live food.

This bread was so good!  I could have made a meal out of the bread and cheese.
This bread was so good! I could have made a meal out of the bread and cheese.

Needless to say, the class is certainly worth the money and the drive.  We started at 9:30 and the class was wrapped up about 2:30.  There were about 10 of us and we all had such a good time.  Friendships were made and knowledge shared.  We chatted about raising honeybees and learned that cows like cabbage- but only the first bite out of every head in the garden!  Chef Nancy also teaches cooking classes and she and Karl offer consulting services for those interested in sustainable farming practices.  You can learn from all they have learned in their years of farming.  So, if you are looking for a cheese class, I suggest you give Nancy Falster a call!  You can reach her at chef@SouthernGrace.Biz .

Do you make cheese?  What is your favorite cheese?  Feel free to share!