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My name is Anna, and I am thoroughly and irrevocably addicted to chai. Traditionally an infusion of herbs in hot milk and water, chai is actually the word for tea in Hindi and throughout much of Asia. Here in the West, what we call chai actually more closely refers to “masala chai,” which consists of black tea, some form of sweetener, milk, and herbs such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and pepper. You can use whole or powdered herbs, mix up the combinations/ratios, add a little sea salt, make it your own. Oh! but it is creamy, spicy, sweet, bitter, and a little salty, all at once, and it leaves me sighing and blissfully rubbing my belly.

Usually chai is simmered for a long time for a good strong brew, but it’s summer, and I like to “cook” passively as much as possible to keep the kitchen from getting too hot, else my pitta self tends to overheat. So for this summertime version, I decided to try to do it as a concentrated sun tea, which you can then mix with milk for a cool chai treat! Also, though I wouldn’t recommend anything but real dairy for hot chai, for a cold chai, nut milks or oat milk are also quite tasty. Oat milk = yum.

Sun-Brewed Summer Chai

  • 4 c. water
  • 5 black tea bags
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 t. cardamom
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. ginger
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 t. pepper
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 3 T. honey (or to taste)
  • Milk

Place all herbs and tea in a quart (4-cup) mason jar. Add water to the top. Securely put the lid on and shake it all about. Put it in a sunny spot and let it steep all day. That’s what it’s all about!

I knew my “sunny spot” would only get sun for four or six hours and we want this tea strong, so I actually started it the night before and let it steep a full 24 hours. When it’s done, strain the liquid into a bottle or jar, add honey, and once more shake it up to dissolve the honey. The amount I used above is mildly sweet, but adjust to your taste. Store in the refrigerator, and when ready to use, mix with milk or oat milk or almond milk or whatever milk you prefer, usually a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of chai syrup to milk. Enjoy cold as a summer morning treat, and pat yourself on the back for never turning on the stove!

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It just occurred to me this weekend that gardening might be a good topic to include on the blog. Sure, I suppose you could practice herbalism by simply ordering all your herbs online and never actually meeting the plants in person, but what kind of way is that to make friends? Call me old fashioned, but I think the best way to connect with a plant is a lot like how you connect with other people: encourage growth, nurture it, visit and observe it regularly, be a good listener. You might be surprised to discover that you’re beginning to form “relationships” with your herbal allies.

Me sweating, the dog chilling on the gi-normous pile of dirt. Smart dog.

First you’ll want to prepare a garden bed—the wee planties need a place to grow. The best time to build up garden beds is generally in the fall, but I’ve never been good at taking my own advice, so this weekend we were celebrating 105 degrees in Richmond by building garden beds. Because that’s my idea of fun, apparently 🙂 Three beds enclosed with landscaping timbers for fall vegetables, and one bed enlarging the bee and butterfly garden—a lovely spot for herbs and beneficials. We’ll probably just do a wattle fence around the bee and butterfly garden this fall – not necessary, but it helps deter the dogs.

My favorite method is sheet mulching / lasagna gardening. It’s comparatively simple—no digging up sod and no tilling and only minimal weeding.

Raised beds for fall vegetables in varying degrees of completion

Step one: lay out soaked cardboard (easiest to use a wading pool) or thick wet sections of newspaper down in a layer where you want the new garden bed to be. The soaked cardboard will suffocate the grass underneath it and prevent it from popping back up, even with wiregrass!

Step two: top the cardboard with a layer topsoil, compost, sand – whatever you use as your growing medium. I use a mix that’s equal parts compost, topsoil, and sand, which provides plentiful nutrients and good drainage. Depth can vary, but I generally aim for around 8 inches.

Step three: mulch over the soil with straw (not hay). This does wonders for helping with retaining moisture, as well as further discouraging weeds.

Step four: each fall, add more compost and more straw to replenish the bed.

And that’s it! Pretty simple, eh? After years of digging up sod, tilling, battling weeds, I’m soooo glad to have found this method. I’ll never go back, and my back is ever so grateful.

Lasagna gardening/sheet mulching - cardboard, then soil, then straw mulch

My friend Robbie and I spent last Friday afternoon having a high time making lotion, body scrub, and body wash. The one thing we didn’t get to was this sun lotion—I was still waiting for cocoa butter to arrive from Mountain Rose. I promised her however that I would save her a jar. We’re both fair-skinned, and speaking for myself, I need all the help I can get.

I really enjoyed Meghan Telpner’s blog on sun and sun protection, and had been wanting to make my own sun lotion. Using her recipe and a couple others as guidelines, here’s the recipe I came up with.

Melting waxes and oils together in my version of a double boiler

NOTES: If you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t), you can make your own easily enough by putting a canning ring or two inside a large saucepan, filling it partway with water, and resting a smaller saucepan inside of it, as shown in the picture above. The canning ring(s) will allow the water to flow around the smaller saucepan, just like in a double boiler. Also, I love using my immersion blender for the emulsifying process, but a powerful blender would do the job too, I imagine.

Also, use the purest ingredients that you can find—the borax is not your average store-bought borax, I get it from Mountain Rose and it’s cosmetic grade with no additional additives or surfactants. The oils are organic and unrefined whenever possible. And, should you happen to think, “Oh hey, cocoa butter wafers! Those’ll be easy to measure!”, you might want to order them in cooler weather, so you don’t get home to a melted bag of cocoa butter, which will become a brick once it cools from sitting in the sun on one’s front porch. Just saying. 🙂

Homemade Sun Lotion

  • 1/3 c. sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. jojoba oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet almond oil
  • 1/3 c. cocoa butter
  • 2 tsp. vegetable based emulsifying wax
  • 1/8 tsp. citric acid
  • 1/4 c. distilled water
  • 1/4 c. aloe vera gel
  • 1 tsp. borax powder (pure cosmetic grade)
  • 10 drops lemon balm essential oil (or other lemony or minty oils, for insect repellant actions)

Place the first seven ingredients in a double boiler and turn heat to Medium. Meanwhile, combine in a bowl or wide-mouth quart jar (my preference for the immersion blender) the distilled water, aloe vera gel, and borax powder. Stir or shake well to mix and set aside. Continue stirring the oils in the double boiler constantly while it melts. Once all oils have melted together, removed from heat.

Place your immersion blender into the jar or bowl with the aloe mixture, and begin blending. Slowly pour the oils from the double boiler into the jar or bowl while blending—this will emulsify the lotion. Be sure to scrape all the oil out of the double boiler, as the citric acid granules tend to stick in the bottom of the pan. Continue blending the mixture, thoroughly aerating/emulsifying it until it is quite frothy and light, at least a minute. Add your essential oils and mix in.

Pour lotion into jars and allow to cool—it will thicken as it cools to room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups/1 pint.

Do you have any favorite sun lotion recipes or tips?

As an aside, make sure that when blogging you don’t forget that you’re heating milk in the next room to make yogurt, else big boiling milky mess will ensue. Ask me how I know. 🙂

Artemisia vulgaris

Other names:
Mugwort, Moxa, St. John’s Herb

Family:
Compositae – wormwood family

Mugwort, June 2010

Parts used:
Aerial parts – leaves, flowering stalks; or root

Actions:
Warming and bitter – digestive stimulant, liver stimulant, carminative, anti-depressant, nerve tonic, emmenagogue, anti-rheumatic, anti-bilious. Also, mugwort is known to promote highly vivid dreaming, which I can confirm through personal experience – I normally have pretty active dreams, but the ones I had after taking mugwort right before bedtime were off the charts. On that note, if you have trouble getting a good night’s restful sleep, try to avoid taking this late in the day.

Indications:
Stagnant digestion, irregular menstruation, menstrual cramps or pain, depression, rheumatism, sciatica, gout, tension – both physical and nervous, diuretic, colds, bronchitis, and other cold or damp conditions.

Constituents:
Volatile oils: cineole and thujone, absinthin (bitter), flavonoids, tannins, resin, insulin

Mugwort, dried whole

Growing information:
Appearing in early spring and lasting right up until the first frosts of fall, mugwort is a small-town kind of plant friend: once you get to know it, you’ll be running into it everywhere, and yes, in urban areas, too! It seems to thrive in borderlands and “waste” places, the edges of constructions sites, on the border between field and forest, along roadsides (although I don’t recommend you collect anything that grows close to roadsides). We learned about drying mugwort a couple weeks ago, and the very next day found a lovely patch along the field near my house in Richmond, VA. Mugwort will grow anywhere between two and twelve feet tall and seems to have a communal energy, growing in large clusters – a soft, bushy, wonderfully scented patch of feathery herb that is very enticing for those inclined toward napping outdoors. Apparently many consider it to be an invasive weed, as it spreads easily, “aggressively displacing other species, even secreting an herbicide from its roots to create a monoculture,” but I’m with Steve Brill on this one: “I appreciate any vigorous plant that thrives in the city,” (Brill 240).

Collection:
Collect leaves and stalks just when the blossoms begin to appear, “which is between mid-summer and early Fall,” (Hoffman 65).

Preparation:
Artmesia vulgaris is the herb used in moxabustion, practiced by many acupuncturists, a therapy in which moxa is burnt on or close to the skin along acupuncture points. Mugwort is often used in infusions (steep covered so as not to lose the volatile oils – 15 minutes) or use an infusion in a bath, especially for menstrual cramps, arthritis, etc. It can also be tinctured in alcohol or vinegar. And since I’m only somewhat food-obsessed, “In mid-spring, when it’s only 6 inches tall, Asian people collect it to deep-fry. Other people use it like parsley,” (Brill 240). Yum.

Historical:
The name mugwort comes from the old English word “wort” meaning plant and “mug” indicating how the herb was used to flavor a mug of beer. “Hippocrates noticed mugwort’s ability to stimulate uterine contractions,” (Brill 240). “Used by women since ancient times… to provoke delayed or absent periods, and is therefore said to be contra-indicated during pregnancy. In China however, it has been used to prevent miscarriage… like wormwood was used externally as a compress to speed up the birth process and to help expel the afterbirth,” (Mabey 44).

Warning:
Contra-indicated while pregnant, prolonged use and/or high doses are not recommended. Thujone is known to be toxic in exceedingly high doses, but I would be impressed if anyone were capable to take enough at one time for this to become an issue. Apparently sage, a common culinary herb and commonly used for smudging, has higher concentration of thujone, if that gives you an idea (Duke II, 15).

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