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Spring means many wonderful things, but it also means (sigh) spring cleaning. One of those jobs that I want to put off and put off, dreading the mess that will ensue before order is restored—even more so now that I have a toddler and must measure out my chores in naptimes (he’s not quite old enough that he can help yet, unless by “help” you mean throwing things at random, stuffing anything-not-nailed-down into his mouth, etc.).
This spring, high on my to-do list is taking inventory, organizing, and relocating my medicinals. I keep a lot of my herbs in tincture form because it has a much longer shelf-life and takes up less space than bulk herbs. Having tinctured here and there since 2008, my medicinals have been kind of crammed in odd spaces as I finished them. Thank goodness I at least had the presence of mind to label them (herb, menstruum, date) so I could figure out what I was finding. I’ve also just begun Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women course, so knowing what I have on hand in advance and getting it all in one place will be really helpful as I move through the course material.
After dredging bottles, bags, and boxes out of the bottom of the kitchen pantry, the back of a couple cabinets, and the upstairs closet (I hope I didn’t miss any hiding places!), I gathered all the herbies together, made a list of what they were, how much I had (by volume or weight, as appropriate), and date. I then stowed them all in roughly alphabetical order in one place in the kitchen where they will be kept dry and in the dark—and much more easy to access than their previous hiding places. The inventory list (with room for notes, additions, etc.) will be posted inside the door to the herb cabinet for quick reference.
As you can see from the picture, my tinctures are stored in various and sundry glass jars. Some are the wonderful flip-top bottles, others in different sizes of canning jars, others in re-used glass juice bottles—a decidedly un-fancy hodge-podge, but whatever works. I fit my few bags of bulk herbs, oils, etc., in where I could. Doubtless I’ll need to find a bigger space for them down the road, but for now, this will suffice. As a special reward for my archeological dig herbal inventory, I unearthed a half-dozen bottles of homemade t’ej in assorted flavors—watermelon, lemon balm, mulberry, apricot, etc. YUM.
What are your spring herbal chores?
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.
2 quart jar
2 quart jug with airlock (or balloon)
Long wooden spoon
Cheesecloth / fine mesh sieve / coffee filters
Distilled or boiled water (to ensure no chlorine or other contaminants
1 1/2 c. raw local honey
Several handfuls fresh herb(s)
- If using tap water, bring 2 quarts of it to a rolling boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature.
- 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).
- Pour honey into the jar.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.