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I put my first potions of the season up today: the first step for orange-mint liqueur, and lemon balm vinegar.

Liqueur is an easy but seriously time-consuming process.  It’s similar to making “tincture,” which is basically extract of fresh herb in alcohol.  (Glycerine tinctures are available as well, and they are good, but they don’t get as many of the alkaloids from the plant as the alcohol.)

Herb Tincture Recipe

chop up enough clean fresh herb to fill a clean jar 2/3-3/4 of the way full. (I use a food processor for this–one of the only things I use it for.) 

(Note: what part of the herb you use will depend on the herb itself, and what part of it has the medicinal qualities you are looking for.  St. John’s Wort is usually “flowering tops,” which means the top part of the stems and leaves that mostly include the flowers.  Lemon balm and mint and such are herbs where the virtue is mostly in the leaves, and you want to get the leaves when they’re still basically young and tender.  Echinacea is debated–most agree that the root is the most medicinal part, but I personally have always preferred the “whole plant” echinacea extract–flower to root, all tinctured together. This is a subject for a whole bunch of other posts, but I wanted to at least mention it…)

Over the chopped herb in the jar, pour 100 proof alcohol of some kind–easiest and cheapest route for this is a half and half combination of 190 proof grain alcohol (i.e. Everclear or Spiritus) and distilled water. (Yes, do use distilled water rather than tap.) If you can find 100 proof vodka, that’s fine too.  And honestly, if you’re making the tincture in order to make liquer, rather than for trying to squeeze every last bit of medicinal alkaloid out of the plant, 80 proof  vodka will work just fine.  Try to fill the jar all the way to the top; the less air it has to react with, the better.

LABEL YOUR JAR.  Write what you put in it, and most importantly when you made it.  Be as completely obsessive about labelling your potions as you possibly can, or you will forget.

Let the herb/alcohol mixture steep in a cool dark place for about 2-4 weeks for liqueur grade, 6-8 weeks for medicinal grade tincture. Shake the jar every couple of days; this will keep any of the herb that emerges over the top from oxidizing too much and/or growing things you don’t want growing there. (It has to sit a long time for that to happen, though–remember, your herb is pickling in pretty strong alcohol in there.)  It’s not an exact science, just kind of try to remember to give it a turn every once in a while.

After your preferred steeping time is up, drain the liquid through a coffee filter, cheesecloth, or muslin; squeeze out every last bit of liquid from your herbs.

You now have tincture–herbal extract.  Medicinally, you can put a few drops into water or juice; some tinctures (lemon balm, lavender) are okay to just drip into your mouth onto your tongue, but some can be too strong for that, so be careful.

To make it into liqueur, you now have a few more steps and a couple more months:

Make a simple sugar solution, equal in amount to the amount of tincture you want to make into liqueur. As in, if you have 2 cups of tincture, make a solution by mixing 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Let cool.

Mix together sugar solution and tincture in equal parts in a bottle or jar. Label it. (If you wish, you might note on the label that what’s in there is about 45-50 proof.) Let it cure for 6 weeks to whenever, tasting it periodically to see how it’s doing.

By Christmastime, if there’s any left, pour into pretty bottles you’ve saved from liqueurs or vinegars or whatever you think would be nice, put pretty labels on, and give as gifts.  If you really want to do that. These liqueurs are pretty good.

For vinegar, you basically do exactly the same thing–chop the herb, let it steep in vinegar for a few weeks, drain, and re-bottle.  Lemon balm and Tarragon are great for this…

greenmama: (Default)

Okay, I'm not usually a "product placement" kind of person, but this one product is so amazing and has saved my professional life so many times, I have to mention it.

I'm a musician--conductor, singer, teacher, mostly. (Also organist/pianist, composer, but those things aren't voice-affected.)  I am also depressingly prone to vocal-and-respiratory bugs, which get in there and just sit for weeks.  And tend to come at very inconvenient times. (I wonder on some level if it's performance anxiety manifesting psychosomatically, warning me that I really don't want to make a career out of singing, even if I have a pretty adequate instrument to work with. On some level I think I'm conflicted about whether I want to or should sing more...but that's beside the point.) 

So while normally I like to make my own funky medicinal concoctions, I happened upon the Traditional Medicinals line of teas some years ago, particularly the one called "Throat Coat," and it has been my salvation on numerous occasions.

Traditional Medicinals teas are available at most natural food stores (Whole Foods, etc.) and I've even seen them in some conventional grocery stores.  They have a whole line of products, very clearly stating on the box what conditions each blend is intended for.  I took the "More Milk" tea while I was nursing, the "Pregnancy" one (I forget the name) when I was pregnant, and I take "Herba-Tussin" and "Cold Care P.M." regularly when I have colds and flu.  There are a couple of good ginger-based ones, too, for upset tummy.  Like most herbal treatments, they are not intended to be a magic bullet or to immediately clear all symptoms; rather, they strengthen and tone the system so that the body can heal itself in particular ways. 

Throat Coat, on the other hand...okay, it's probably not intended to be a magic bullet, but it's served me as such.  A lot. 

The active ingredients are as follows:
Licorice root
Slippery elm bark
Licorice extract
Marshmallow root
Wild cherry bark
Bitter fennel fruit
Cinnamon bark
Orange peel

I think the last two are mostly just for taste, and I don't honestly know what bitter fennel does, but the first five ingredients are a powerhouse of soothingness for mucous membranes.  Licorice, Slippery Elm, and Marshmallow are for example well known mucilagenous herbs, which sort of put a very light coating of, well, goo I suppose (but it doesn't feel goopy or mucousy at all, as opposed to not using these herbs in which case you either have raw tissues or actual mucous or both) which protects and sooths the inflamed tissues and sort of helps the whole vocal mechanism function under really adverse conditions.  Wild cherry bark is usually used more as a cough supressant, but it also does it in a soothing and gentling kind of way.

I have gone from effectively mute to functional over the course of a few hours with this tea more times than I can count.  (I mean, it's not like I would go sing Azucena or anything, not that anyone has ever wanted me to, but I've been able to manage choral concerts and recording sessions.)  

If you hate licorice with an ungodly passion, you probably won't be able to deal with it.  It has a very delicate licorice flavor which I happen to really like, not overpowering at all.  And licorice is one of the naturally sweet herbs, so it doesn't have the bitterness of some herbal teas.

A note about brewing herbal teas: To get good medicinal use out of them, you must let them brew for the recommended 15-20 minutes, and you must cover them while brewing or all the good stuff will evaporate out of them.  Plus they'll taste yooky if you don't.

Enjoy!! (well, okay, if you have laryngitis you're probably not having too much fun, but you know what I mean.)
greenmama: (Default)
I have the flu. This time it's my stomach, and my equilibrium--dizzy spells every so often, for no apparent reason.

So it seems like a good day to share my favorite natural tummy remedy.

**note: only very rarely do I take any essential oils internally. They are extremely concentrated and can be harmful or sometimes fatal in too-large doses; most should never be taken internally at all.  Do your homework. And keep out of reach of your kids. **

Yucky Tummy Potion
Heat up a mug of water in the microwave

While it's heating, drizzle a little honey onto a spoon.

Onto the honey drop one drop each ginger essential oil and sweet fennel essential oil. (ONE drop each. Two max.)

Drizzle more honey over that. (This helps the eo dissolve a little; it is still very volatile and most will just escape into the air.

Stir mug of hot water with the honeyed spoon.

At this point you should have a lovely fragrant steaming beverage; inhaling the fumes is honestly about as helpful as actually drinking it, IMO, but it tastes lovely anyway.

And now I'm going to go make some more.
greenmama: (Default)
(Okay, standard warnings--I'm not a doctor, and anyone who takes anything I say as actual medical advice is sort of ill-advised. Do your own research and talk with your own health care providers. I'm a musician, not a doctor. But I read a lot.)

Probably the best aromatherapy site (and finest merchant of essential oil) I've ever come across is  Marge over there has a ton of really good information, and she sells great products.  I also get good stuff from --their oils are a little cheaper, and they also sell dried herbs and teas and stuff.  Both companies are just amazing. 

After my daughter was born, a little delayed, actually, I got slammed witha  case of post-partum depression. (Had it after my son was born too, but at the time I really didn't know what I was dealing with--I thought I was just a bad mother who couldn't cope.) Suicidal thoughts, self-damage, bursting into hours of tears at the slightest thing, retreating into my room in fetal position for hours at a time (or until a child needed me). It lasted several months before beginning to back off.

My midwife, who couldn't prescribe anything for me, recognized the signs during my pregnancy that it would likely hit me later, and urged me then and throughout to get help, but my doctor (the one who could actually write prescriptions) thought I just needed to relax and "do less" and "not be so hard on myself. (This is the same doctor who said, based on nothing more than a family history, that another family member would probably be on SSRI's for the rest of his life.  The family member stopped on his own almost 4 years ago and has been doing really well. That's a story for another time--the short version is simply this: don't try this at home, get your doctor's help. Unless your doctor is an idiot like ours was, in which case I don't know what to tell you.) (By the way, this man is no longer our doctor.)

So here I was with a crazywild case of PPD working me over and nothing to treat it with. Honestly, I don't know if I would have gone for the SSRI's even if I had the option; I'd seen and done research on what can happen when one later tries to get off them (or some of them), and it would have been a scary step for me to take.  (Note: I know a whole bunch of people who swear by their meds, whose lives have quite literally been saved by them. Please don't take my hesitation to go there as in any way a slight on those for whom they make the difference between life and death, or between non-life and life, shadow and sun, etc.)

So I started doing research into alternative methods. In the end, I used three main things:

1. Tincture of Motherwort (Lady Barbara on refers to it as " 'there, there' in a bottle." The stuff tastes horrific, but buried with other things it's not too bad.  I would use a squirt of Motherwort and a squirt of Lemon Balm in a little orange juice and just toss it down.  If it was really bad I'd throw some Lavender tincture in there too--Lavender is mostly thought of as sort of a sedative, but it also seems to aid in the work of whatever other herbs it's combined with. Lemon Balm is also sort of a sedative but a different kind--Lady B refers to it as sort of a universal "decongestant," helping smooth out or get moving whatever's stopped up or twisted, whether that's muscles in spasm or stuffy sinuses or a brain full of crap that gets wound tighter and tighter. (and IT tastes lovely!). Motherwort you can kind of guess by its name--it's a very old herb used for ages to help deal with womanhormones. Now that the PPD is long gone, I still keep a bottle around for when I need it.  Usually around once a month. :-)

2. Elm flower essence. The flower essence most people are familiar with is the Bach Rescue Remedy or Five Flower Formula--supposed to be great for calming down in a crisis. (I keep a bottle around for performance anxiety or after nightmares and stuff, or to help the dog chill out when he gets all worked up.) There are dozens of others, though, individual flowers to address different imbalances.  Elm, sez the bottle, "restores your normal strength and optomism when you are temporarily overwhelmed or burdened by responsibility."   (Sounds like new mommyness to me.)  You're really supposed to dissolve these in water also, but I tended to just put a drop under my tongue.

3. Aromatherapy, or essential oils. I had become interested in these actually while I was pregnant and used a particular blend I created to prepare for birth and to use during labor, in and out of the water.  (Nature's Gift, linked above, has a lot of suggestions.) After the birth, when the PPD hit, I tried a few things and hit on a blend I still love: Clary sage, Lavender , and Lemon, in a 3:2:1 ratio (3 drops clary, 2 drops lavender, 1 drop lemon.)  Somehow that particular combination was always enough to take the edge off.  I made up a little bottle of the mixture and in a pinch could just put a couple of drops onto a tissue and inhale.  If I had more time before the worst of the spell hit, I'd put it into the diffuser.

(EDIT: Just by the way...I honestly have no idea whether the different essential oils in any way work deliberately and/or medically upon certain conditions, or whether simply by creating the blend I was also giving myself sort of the equivalent of a "post-hypnotic suggestion" that would enable that particular odor to cause me to relax and brighten a bit.  Thing is, it worked--just the faintest whiff of that smell would give me enough calm to take the next step, just like the faintest whiff of L'Air du Temps brings me back to sitting on my grandma's lap, or the smell of garlic and onions sauteeing makes me feel Home And Safe. Scent has an amazing way of working on the psyche and emotional center...hey man, whatever works.)

The combination of these three things, believe it or not, got me through a pretty bad few months.   Everything's going to be different for everyone, of course, but I offer this because it worked for me.
greenmama: (Default)

Okay, one of these years I'm going to try this:
(taken from )

Dandelion Wine Recipe

Dandelion wine is an actual drink that is made from the blossoms of the humble dandelion. Below is a recipe from an old cookbook that dates from the early 1900's. (Be certain that there are no pesticides or herbicides on the plants, such as weedkiller!)

"Four good quarts of dandelion blossoms, four pounds of sugar, six oranges, five lemons. Wash dandelion blossoms and place them in an earthenware crock. Pour five quarts of boiling water over them and let stand 36 hours. Then strain through a muslin bag, squeezing out all moisture from dandelions. Put the strained juice in a deep stone crock or jug and add to it the grated rind and juice of the six oranges and five lemons. Tie a piece of cheese-cloth over the top of jug and stand it in a warm kitchen about one week, until it begins to ferment. Then stand away from stove in an outer kitchen or cooler place, not in the cellar, for three months. At the end of three months put in bottles. This is a clear, amber, almost colorless liquid. A pleasant drink of medicinal value. Aunt Sarah always used this recipe for making dandelion wine, but Mary preferred a recipe in which yeast was used, as the wine could be used a short time after making."

For dandelion wine made with yeast: "Four quarts of dandelion blossoms. Pour over them four quarts of boiling water; let stand 24 hours, strain and add grated rind and juice of two oranges and two lemons, four pounds of granulated sugar and two tablespoonfuls of home-made yeast. Let stand one week, then strain and fill bottles."
Source: "Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes Compiled During Her Visit Among the "Pennsylvania Germans," by Edith M. Thomas, 1915.

Disclaimer: if you make dandelion wine using either of these recipes, you do so at your own risk.

This just looks sort  But no time this year.
greenmama: (Default)
Greengrade for today (so far):

--planted 3 echinacea and 2 yarrow in the front of the house, as well as 3 rescued lilies from church. (They always flood the place with hothouse lilies at Easter, and then as soon as they stop blooming they put them out in the hall for anyone who wants to take them. I've seldom gotten those lilies to do much, it's like they are too stressed out from their one Easter's glory to do anything else, like the kid who's super-popular in high school but never amounts to anything later in life...hopefully one of these is a closet nerd...)
--fed the kids a very simple dinner. not entirely local but all good and healthy.  Dessert was homemade yogurt with honey and cinnamon on top. (see , my lj entry on how to make homemade yogurt. Surprisingly easy.) 
--felt VERY virtuous when I saw the rest of the takeout Chinese in the fridge (I had some for lunch today too) and realized I really didn't want serious heavy food and instead ate some goat cheese on crackers, orange juice my mom brought and forgot to take with her (so the buying-non-local-tiny-container negative points are hers and not mine), and a bowl of yogurt myself.  I know, eating healthy doesn't necessarily count as "green," but being mindful and paying attention and choosing the simple over the complex-processed is a good thing, as I see it.
--ate a banana for "brunch" rather than stopping at McD's or Dunkin on the way to work this morning and getting something awful

bad: (not including the usual crap I always do, like generating too much garbage, driving more than I need to, etc.)
--put some yard waste trash into the same bag as trash trash rather than separating.  Hopefully I don't lose too many points here because it was really not much at all...

neutral (good cancels out bad):
--hubby is outside using a gas rototiller to render at least slightly organic and growable the raised bed in our backyard, which is basically a big block of clay.  It's horrible.  We've been trying to work it by hand but we just can't do it, so we broke down and he's now in 2 hours doing what would otherwise take us weeks or more likely never get done.  He's mixing an appalling amount of manure and sand into it to hopefully give us something that veggies will grow in.  The gas part is bad, the growing our own veggies will (hopefully) be good.  If this bed doesn't pan out in the long run, we'll hire landscapers or something, or make a higher bed and fill it with our own dirt, because this is insane. 

I also hurt my back putting in the lilies.  It's appalling to me how much clay weighs--a big shovelful lifted Not Quite The Right Way was enough to do me in. Fortunately that was the last lily, and then I was done, but I would have liked to help Al schlep the gajillion bags of amendments back to the bed. (Okay, I didn't really want to, but I of course would have.  Now--not a chance. The husband points he's racking up today will take forever to pay back.)

I hope to hell this works. I want veggies. It would suck to have bought a nice house with a nice yard only to discover we can't grow anything in it.

Today we went to visit The Growing Place in Naperville--a really awesome nursery with scads and scads of plants.  That's where we found the pussy willow and orange mint before.  Unfortunately, they seem to specialize in carefully bred hybrids and such, pretty ornamental things, and they don't have Plain Old Anything. No white yarrow, no St. John's Wort.  We did get some red-leaf lettuce, a peony, and 3 small echinacea.  All but the lettuce are in the ground--that raised bed, ya know? although I'm trying to find a home for the lettuce that's closer to the kitchen door, so I'll be able to just sort of step outside (like with my herbs) and pick a salad.  We'll see.

Now I'm just rambling, so I'll stop.

Ow. I'm not 25 any more. I'm not 35 either, for that matter, although this would have done my back in then too.

Ow. If I had some St. John's Wort oil I'd mix it with helicrysum EO and rub it all over my back.  I don't. Ow.


A good man

May. 2nd, 2009 07:56 pm
greenmama: (Default)
My husband is a good man.

I had to work all day today, and he spent the day not only keeping the kids from killing each other, but he also dug out the barberry bushes in the front yard that we no longer want. (A friend is coming to take them, which is a good thing.  I hate to destroy perfectly good living plants, but I also don't want my kids running around a yard full of thorn bushes.)

If I weren't so damn tired, I'd be out there tonight planting the yarrow there, but I am pretty damn tired, so I think I'll wait till tomorrow after work.  And I may stop and pick up some echinacea at the garden place friend Nancy said she'd give me some echinacea, but I have no idea when, and the spring she is a-flying...

The backyard herbs seem to be doing okay in their raised-bed-over-swamp...the orange mint is a little questionable, but the lavender and balm seem to be taking okay.  And I don't think anything can kill mint for long, so I'm hoping orange buddy will make it.  The ones in front are mostly okay, although the English Thyme is looking a little fadey.  It was the smallest of them all and came with the smallest root system, so I don't know how it will do.

Eventually on here I'll post some of my favorite herb recipes, but my very favorite is actually the easiest, and it only works while the lavender is in bloom.  One night a couple of springs ago when my insomnia was giving me trouble, I poured a mug of milk, and dropped two lavender flower tops into it like stirring-sticks. I think I put a spoon of sugar in it too (my weakness).  Then I just heated it up in the microwave.

The lavender flavor was delicate and sweet, so much fresher and sweeter than the tinctures or dried flowers can give.  And I slept like a baby.  I think I did that every night before bed until they stopped blooming. 

I got two bushes this time because I never seemed to get enough flowers from one to make enough tincture--one spring's worth barely gets me through the year, and I'd love to use some for liqueur. (Lavender flower liqueur, now there's a sweet ticket straight to dreamland!)

The greenmama gets a failing greengrade today--I had a bottle of water at lunch (I never drink bottled water, but it was what they served us), and instead of cooking something sustainable and lovely we ordered Chinese.  At least it comes in cardboard instead of styrofoam. But it was a helluva long day.

greenmama: (Default)
This afternoon I got a buttload of work done on the garden, mostly the herbs.  I'm feeling very tired and very satisfied. (I can't believe how heavy and yet how small 40 lbs of dirt is!) Here's what's in the ground:

Backyard raised bed:
2 hidcote lavender plants, 1 orange mint, 1 lemon balm.
All three of these plants are very hardy and very invasive.  In the past when I've planted these near my other herbs, they've squeezed them out of the garden entirely.  (Note: I've never done the orange mint before, but I've tried other mint and it spreads with great fervor and aggression.) The lavender gets big and rooty enough that the balm can't take it over, and the balm will spread anywhere you let it.  Mint has this sneaky way of sending out underground lateral roots and springing up half a yard away, which is sort of embarrassing when that half a yard turns out to be your neighbor's and he has a beautifully manicured lawn and all. So I'm hoping the raised-ness of the raised bed and the swampiness of what's not raised over there will result in it staying put.

Over in the side, by the walkway to the kitchen patio, I've planted most of my culinary herbs there so it'll be easy to grab them mid-meal-prep. The inventory there:
2 chamomile (I think roman, but it could be german, I took a chance since the Latin name wasn't on the plant. I probably won't know till next spring when they either come up or don't.)
1 English thyme
1 orange spice thyme
1 French tarragon
1 Greek oregano

I've also started basil in some pots, since they hate the cool weather. 

I learned a few summers ago how to make herbal tinctures and potions, and they've saved me a lot of money. Once Nancy gives me the echninacea plants she promised me, I'll save even more--I can make a quart of echninacea tincture for maybe ten bucks and six weeks, whereas buying 4 oz. costs about $30+  Ditto the other tinctures.

Lemon Balm--tea, tincture, and liqueur.  Lemon Balm is a good natural relaxant and decongestant.  The liqueur is both refreshing and relaxing, and its general "aura" sort of depends on when you got the leaves from the plant--it's lighter and sweeter when you use young leaves, and gets a heaviness when you use leaves that've been on the plant for a long time.  The trick is to get the leaves before the plant flowers, because as soon as that happens they lose all their flavor. 

More later...


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