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A couple lovely posts this week from fellow bloggers – thought I’d share with you here.

From Methow Valley Herbs, a great materia medica post on Hawthorn

From Fat of the Land blog, another post on Dandelion Wine (my post on this is coming soon, probably this week… just eagerly waiting for it to stop bubbling 🙂

In case you didn’t already know, the annual Herbs Galore fair is going to be at Maymont this weekend, Saturday, April 24, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Vendors will be selling seedlings, seeds, gardening tools, and handmade herbal products, there will be classes and workshops, food, art, all set in one our favorite and most idyllic parks in Richmond. This is THE big herb event in RVA each year – hope to see you there!

Dandelions

We’ve been a bit dandelion crazy around here, and working on a couple posts celebrating the willful golden “weeds.” For starters, I’d like to share the process of making t’ej, an Ethiopian honey wine that is so simple to make and such a delightful way to celebrate your in-season herbs, soon your countertops will be as cluttered with bottles and jugs as mine are!

This is the process as I was taught by Suzanna Stone, a wonderful guest teacher at Sacred Plant Traditions, with my own notes added in.

Equipment:
2 quart jar
2 quart jug with airlock (or balloon)
Long wooden spoon
Cheesecloth / fine mesh sieve / coffee filters
Funnel

Ingredients:
Distilled or boiled water (to ensure no chlorine or other contaminants
1 1/2 c. raw local honey
Several handfuls fresh herb(s)

  1. If using tap water, bring 2 quarts of it to a rolling boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Collect fresh herbs. Wash gently or brush off dirt etc. Chop and place several handfuls in the 2-quart jar (most recently we made a batch each—dandelion blossoms and violet blossoms).
  3. Pour honey into the jar.
  4. Add water (room temperature) to fill the jar the rest of the way, leaving an inch or two of space at the top for easy stirring.
  5. Stir this mixture well with a wooden spoon until the honey is dissolved, and then some more. Traditionally, an Ethiopian household has their own tej spoon which is not washed between uses so it accumulates it’s own “good” fermenting bacteria and particular flavor. Between stirrings, the spoon is laid across the top of the jar or crock.
  6. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and allow to sit on the counter, out of direct sunlight, stirring 2 or 3 times daily until a froth starts to appear on the top of the liquid. Generally this will take a week or so, but my dandelion batch was frothing abundantly after only three days.Dandelion t'ej with froth, before straining out the herb and putting in the jug with airlock.
  7. Using a funnel with cheesecloth, sieve, or coffee filters, strain the herb out of the t’ej, pouring the remaining liquid into the jug—seal the jug with the airlock. Airlocks can be purchased for 1 or 2 dollars at specialty kitchen or brewing stores, and make sure to follow the directions and use the requisite amount of brandy or vodka in the airlock. If you opt to use a balloon instead of an airlock, remember to “burp” the balloon occasionally.Two kinds of airlocks (filled with brandy) - I personally prefer the one on the right.
  8. Allow the t’ej to continue fermenting in the jug until the airlock stops bubbling—this means that the naturally-occurring yeasts are no longer consuming sugars and producing gases. At this point, your tej is ready—bottle it, label it, and enjoy!

Note: These are the proportions I used, but if you want to make a larger amount, just be sure to keep the proportions the same. Doubling all the portions would make a gallon batch.

Dandelion t'ej - enjoy!

It’s gorgeous outside, all my windows are open, and I’m trying to study, but every hour or so a birdsong or breeze or scent pulls me with cartoonish tendrils out the door to wander the yard, investigate new growth, feel the soft young grass and golden sunshine sandwiching my pale and happy feet.

Sun Tea

Clearly, a day like this calls for sun tea. This is a staple of southern life, and about the easiest thing in the world to make. All you need is a sunny day, a large glass bottle, and some herbs. You ready? Fill your bottle with water. Put your herbal blend of choice in a tea ball and put it in the water. Cap your jar and set it in the sunshine for, oh, an hour? a day? however long you want? It’s that easy. Store it in the refrigerator and enjoy for up to 4 days.

I love making sun teas with bright tasting herbs like lemongrass and hibiscus. Look at the hibiscus in this tea, lustily dropping its color into the water. I love to dance the tea ball a bit from time to time, watching the color ripple into paisley swirls.  And look at the shimmering, fiery stained-glass light that the tea in the bottle casts on the ground… le sigh—a girl can fall in love with tea like that.

Okay, okay, back to the books…

Sun Tea

Your favorite sun tea combinations?

Every spring I do some form of cleansing diet or fast, looking at one’s wellness as a form of soilless gardening, this is a good way of preparing your body’s garden for another full and fertile year, eliminating toxins, sweeping out the cobwebs.

Since we recently learned about the master cleanse in my herbalism class, I decided to try it out for myself. Generally ten days are recommended for this fast. Being as I have low body fat myself, I aimed for five and completed four, listening to my body for when it was time to come off the fast. I posted daily blog entries on my other blog, the Purple House. If you’re interested in reading about my daily experiences and tips, see Master Cleanse, Days 1 – 4 on the Purple House blog.

What are your experiences with cleansing diets and fasts?

Some of my favorite memories from my youth are of going out on long walks with my mother in late fall or winter, collecting items for a wintry bouquet or wreath. The luminescent money plant, nandina and holly berries, pine cones, cattails, twisted bits of vine-strangled boughs, beautyberry, and at the center of it all—the center of all this after-splendor—was always sumac. At that time of year, long straight grayish stalk, any memories of its leaves now fallen away, with a flame-shaped plume of strangely fuzzy and blood-red berries. Even on the coldest days, the very sight of those berries made me think home. hearth. safety. comfort…

Other names:
Sumac, Sumach, Smooth Sumac

Family:
Anacardiaceae—Cashew family

Sumac berries from last fall

Parts used:
Bark, roots, berries, leaves

Actions:
Astringent, antiseptic, tonic, antibiotic, and amphoteric. The bark is sometimes considered a galactagogue, and the root tea is emetic and diuretic (Foster, 281). “Of 100 medicinal plants screened for antibiotic activity, this species was most active, attributed to content of gallic acid, 4-methoxygallic acid, and methyl gallate,” (Foster, 281).

Indications:
The most common indication is ulcers, both internal and external. In Cherokee tradition, sumac is used to treat sunburn and skin ulcers (Garrett, 141), specifically, a tea is poured “over sunburn blisters; bark tea drunk to make human milk flow abundantly; chew red berries to stop bedwetting; eat to stop vomiting,” (Hamel, 57). American Indians also smoked sumac leaves for asthma, and “leaf tea used for asthma, diarrhea, stomatosis (mouth diseases), dysentery,” (Foster, 281), as well as chronic cases of inflammation, irritation, and ulcers on both internal and external mucous membranes (Ellingwood). Steven Foster also recommends sumac for scrofula, “leukorrhea, and anal and uterine prolapse,” (Foster, 281). Matthew Wood concurs with the anxiety-related indications and ulcers, but also adds the mental indications of low self-esteem or cowardice, fearfulness or impatience, as well as diarrhea or constipation, poor appetite or excessive appetite, “weakness of attention and memory,” (Wood, 304), all of which makes me think that this is good Vata medicine (referring to the Vata dosha in Ayurveda), what with the mental indications and the systemic polar extremes.

Constituents:
Volatile oils, tannins, resin, “gallic acid, albumen, gum, starch. The berries contain malic acid in combination with lime,” (Ellingwood).

Sumac - Rhus glabra

Growing information:
Native shrub that grows in fields or woodland clearings throughout America’s Eastern states, smooth, toothed leaves and branches with tight flame-like clusters of slightly fuzzy red berries.

Collection:
“The bark is collected in the spring, when the sap is running… The outer bark, though easily peeled, should be kept attached to the inner bark. The berries are collected as soon as they are ripe and are tinctured fresh to prevent growth of worms,” (Wood, 303).

Preparation:
Tincture for berries, tincture or decoction for bark, dried powdered berries as seasoning for food

Historical:
Sumac has been used as a food source and herbal medicine in Native American tradition (Eastern) for hundreds of years, some of which is related in the “Indications” section above. It has also been used for black and red dyes in North America (Wood, 297).

Warning:
Not to be confused with its cousin, the Poison Sumac, “which has white fruits and toothless leaves and grows in or near swamps,” (Foster, 281).

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