Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eat Your Yard!

I am constantly looking for edibles in our yard... my kids yell at me when we are outside and I bend down to pick a snack :)  I am trying to teach my kids about wild edibles, and they are slowly accepting that you don't have to go to the grocery store to get your greens!  

There are many varieties of wild edibles in this country, but since I am in the mountains I am going to show you what we have found here.  I am sure some of these are widely available, so keep your eyes peeled next time you wander through your neighborhood...

Common Mallow

The first wild edible I found is Common Mallow.  This a wonderful green herb- it reminds me a little bit of spinach when eaten raw
The plants are usually about 1 foot high. The mid-Spring flowers can be white, pink or light purple, and all have five petals. Shortly after the flowers drop off, the plant produces a small, disc-shaped fruit that resembles a wheel of cheese about 1/4 inch across.
Common Mallow in bloom
All parts of mallow are edible, and nutritious!  Although the leaves and stems are yummy when raw in salads, all parts, including the roots, can be boiled with soups to make them thicker.  The roots can be eaten after being boiled until translucent.
If you can find enough of the roots, you might be able to use them as people have traditionally used marshmallow roots-- to make candy. To do this, peel the root, slice it and boil in just enough simple syrup  to cover. The root will first turn translucent and then seem to melt away. The liquid should be reasonably thick at this point and, after straining any remaining solids, can be dropped by the spoonful onto waxed paper to dry or whipped into a chiffon-like confection. 
Common mallow leaves are rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium.  Dried leaves can be made into a nutritious tea.

Pineapple Weed
Pineapple weed, is a beautiful, feathery edible!  The plant can reach up to 18 inches in height and has fern-like leaves.  It resembles its relative chamomile, although the flowers seem to have no petals!  

Pineapple weed got its name from the pineapple-y scent it emits when you crush it.  You have to have a pretty keen nose to get the full pineapple effect, so don't fret if you can't smell it!
Pineapple weed makes a very nice, relaxing tea when you steep the arial parts of the plant in hot water for about 5 minutes.

Close up of Pineapple Weed flowers

Since it is a cousin to chamomile, you can expect the same medicial properties- very calming, good for menstrual crams, improves digestion, alleviates gas and treats colds.  It has been noted as having mild antiseptic properties, as well!

It's also great to munch on when you find some on a hike!  Feel free to toss some flowers and leaves into your spring salad mix :)

One of the best known wild foods is dandelion.  Although the leaves are best harvested in early spring, before the plant blooms, the flowers can be harvested throughout the summer and made into a delicious "wine".  Once the plant blooms, the leaves become very bitter, although still edible.
The flowers and long taproot can also be eaten. The flowers are best stripped of the green sepals at their base and stir fried or used as a colorful garnish for soups or salads. The taproot needs a long simmering before eating or can also be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute.
As I stated in my previous post on dandelion wine, the dandelion has been used traditionally as a liver detoxifier and has many vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron.

Daisy Fleabane
I have always been a big fan of daisies, but I never knew they were edible.  This variety of daisy grows  anywhere between 1 ft to 4.5 ft in height.  The leaves of this plant tend to be hairy.
Only the leaves are edible. Since they are hairy, the leaves have a somewhat ‘furry’ texture making eating them raw not too nice. They can be used wherever you cook with greens. 
Daisy fleabane leaf extracts contain caffeic acid which is an active compound that has antioxidative and neuroprotective effects on neuronal cells.
Every plant in the mint family is edible- just look for squared-off stems, opposite leaves and a minty scent!

Catmint tastes minty,  although more delicate and more floral than other mints. It can be used in the same ways you might use any more common mint such as peppermint or spearmint. In other words, in just about anything. 

You can also drive your cats crazy with catmint!  It is said to be just as stimulating as catnip for some cats...
Catmint is really great for menstrual cramps, and is also a calmative and muscle relaxant. It is said to relieve the symptoms of colic in children, and can be used as a digestive aid for adults.  Just eat the leaves right off the plant or make into a fragrant tea.

On the subject of medicinal plants, yarrow is a legendary powerhouse.   It sprouts in early to mid-Spring with leaves that resemble green pipe cleaners. Its flowers are white to pink and grow in large umbrella-like bunches. 

Yarrow in bloom

Yarrow's leaves, stems and flowers, dried or fresh, make an herbal tea that is particularly popular in Europe and contains more than 120 active, medicinal compounds. Some of those compounds stop bleeding from open wounds, suppress menstruation and help heal bruises and burns. Those compounds are balanced by other compounds that promote the free flow of blood. Tea brewed from the leaves has been used as a heart, circulatory, arterial wall, and kidney tonic. It also lowers blood pressure and helps sweat out colds, flu, fevers and other infectious illnesses. As if that weren't enough, it has anti-inflamatory and antiseptic qualities. A fresh leaf can be crushed and applied directly to an aching tooth to soothe the pain.

Leaves can be consumed raw or cooked. They have a somewhat bitter flavor yet they make a great addition to mixed salads. They are best used when young. Common yarrow leaves are also used as a hop-substitute for flavoring and as a preservative for beer. Although in general yarrow is a very nutritious and beneficial plant to add to the diet, it is recommended that this not be consumed in large quantities. Tea is made from the flowers and leaves.

Wild Rhubarb
I had never seen rhubarb growing wild before we moved to Colorado!  But, along the seasonal creek that flows past our home, I found a large bunch of this purple-stalked edible.  

Fresh raw stalks are crisp (similar to celery) with a strong, tart taste. The stalks are primarily used in the U.S. in desserts (think strawberry/rhubarb pie!).  Do not eat the leaf, as it contains toxic components.
Rhubarb has cathartic and laxative properties and is used in the case of constipation.

Wild Strawberry
The next two edibles are very similar, even in name- the wild strawberry and the wood strawberry. But, the two fruits are very different, so keep in mind the differences between the two plants.

Anybody who has tried a wild strawberry knows that they taste the same as strawberries sold for cultivation- just much smaller :)  As you can see in the photo, wild strawberries have three, toothed leaves and white flowers (unlike the "fake" wood strawberry- below- that has yellow flowers).
The fruits of the wild strawberry grow downward and hang from the plant, the wood strawberries point upward and are easier to spot.  Both fruits are edible, but wood strawberries are known to be disappointing- they have zero flavor.

So, if you like strawberries, don't be fooled by the beautiful red fruit of the wood strawberry!  Here is a list of things to look for when searching for real wild strawberries:

  • Red fruit, pointing down
  • Three, toothed leaves, plants close to ground
  • white flowers
The roots and leaves of the wild strawberry can be made into tea.  It has been used to treat cases of diarrhea, ailments of the lungs and stomach and can be used raw or dried for skin infections.  Like the dandelion, all parts of the plant are edible!  Like the wild strawberry, the leaves and roots of the wood strawberry can be used for much of the same purposes...just not as tasty.

Wood Strawberry

Common Mullein
This is the most exciting find yet!  Known more for its healing properties than its edibleness, mullein is a very useful herb. As with many of the most useful plants, mullein has many names, including Jacob's staff, flannelleaf and feltwort. I have even heard Coloradans call it "Indian toilet paper"! 
Mullein leaves can be more than 2 feet long. The leaves feel exactly like felt. In its second year, mullein sends up a thick flower stalk that can reach 10 feet in height. Yellow flowers, then seed pods develop on the terminus of the stalk.  When we moved here in December, I remember seeing all these stalks, still persisting in the cold weather...

Mullein, shooting up a flower stalk
Mullein thrives in places where few other plants can grow, like sandy or overly alkaline soils.  It has antihistimine, antiseptic, pain inhibiting, antispasmodic, tranquilizing and sedative qualities. In addition, it can help heal wounds, soothe burns, reduce swelling, stimulate growth and soften skin.
A tea made from the leaves and carefully strained to remove the hairs contains loads of B vitamins as well as vitamin D, choline, hesperidin, PABA, sulfur, magnesium, mucilage, saponins and other active substances. It's one of the most effective remedies around for a sore throat or bad cough. Smoking the leaves can alleviate asthma, bronchitis and other lung ailments. 
A tea with many of the same properties can also be made from the root; this is especially helpful during the winter after the leaves have vanished. Tea made from the flowers has been used to treat migraine headaches, and oil extracted from the flowers has cured ear infections. The yellow flowers contain a color-fast dye that can be used on cloth or, as many Roman women did, to dye hair blonde.
The leaves can be used to treat arthritis because they increase blood flow wherever they are applied. They are also one of the best things around to use as an impromptu bandage.  After having been bruised, just wrap the leaf around the wound!
Mullein leaves and flowers are edible, but tea is probably the preferred method of ingestion :)
This is one herb/edible with many uses!  One of my favorites :)

I found juniper bushes all around our property and in the forest behind us.  The berries are a beautiful shade of blue and have many uses as well!

Bruised juniper berries have traditionally been used as a spice in meat dishes in Europe.  It has also been used to flavor gin (the name "gin" is derived from either the French "genievre" or the Dutch "jenever", both meaning "juniper") and other traditional beverages.
Juniper has diuretic effects, is believed to be an appetite stimulant, and is used to treat rheumatism and arthritis.  It is also being studied as a possible treatment for diabetes, as it releases insulin from the pancreas.  Some Native American tribes used juniper as a female contraceptive.
Juniper essential oil is readily available for use in skincare and aromatherapy.

Be sure to identify the species of juniper you find in your area, as the  Juniperus sabina is toxic and should not be eaten.

Go out and explore your local area!  Find out which edibles are available and show your own family that greens don't always come from the produce section of the grocery store!  Enjoy!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Homemade Herbal Allergy Glycerite

My son suffered from seasonal allergies when we lived in Louisiana.  With all the oaks and flowers blooming in spring, even our cars were sometimes colored yellow from all the pollen in the air!  It was also hard for him because the humidity was always high, even in the spring, making it harder to breathe and pretty much unbearable to spend a lot of time outside...  That was the situation that spurred my interest in herbal remedies :)

10 years later... I am still concocting herbal remedies for my family!  As David Christopher, Master Herbalist and director of the School of Natural Healing, put it so simply:

 "There are no commercially sold herbs as dangerous as the safest drug. "

I want the best health for my family and refuse to give them synthetic drugs, unless necessary.  That includes over-the-counter allergy meds.  So, I'm going to share with you my very effective "Allergy formula".  It has no lengthy list of side-effects (none, actually), and works like a charm!

The Herbs:

I am using three herbs in this formula... first, the superstar herb, fenugreek.  It is used in many herbal formulas for lung healing.  It expels mucus and phlegm from the bronchial tubes and soothes sore throats. 

Next up, the side-kick herbs nettle and peppermint.  Nettle is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, silicon, potassium, and protein.  One of its uses has been in formulas for illnesses concerning the lungs. Peppermint I added for flavor, since herbs are not known for tasting good :)  Peppermint also promotes relaxation and aids in digestion and headache relief.

What you need for your homemade allergy glycerite:

canning jar
crock pot (big enough to hold the canning jar)
wash rag
food grade glycerine
herbs:  1 part Fenugreek, 1/2 part nettle, 1/2 part peppermint 


(If you are making a quart jar's-worth of this extract, use 1 cup as your "part" measurement.)

  • Mix herbs and place them in a clean canning jar. (fill jar about to about 1/2 full)
  • Pour a small amount of hot water over the herbs to wet them.  Let it sit 5 minutes.
  • Fill the canning jar to within 1" of top with glycerine.  Cap tightly.
  • Put the canning jar into your crock pot on a folded rag (to prevent jar from breaking) and fill crock pot with water, up to just below the lid on the canning jar.
  • Set your crock pot on the low or warm setting.  We are not cooking the herbs, just heating them to quicken the extraction process.
  • Let the jar sit in your crock pot for three full days.  Shake the jar at least once a day to circulate the herbs and refill the crock pot with water if it gets too low (the jar should be covered up to just below the lid).  If the herbs settle when the glycerine is fully heated, just top off the extract with glycerine.
  • After the 3 day extraction period, filter your glycerite through a cloth and bottle the liquid. Make sure you label and date the bottles.  This extract is good for 1 year.
Dosage: 1 dropper-full, 3 times a day on an empty stomach.  You can use up to 1 t, three times a day for adults.  If you find the taste isn't pleasant, you can mix this with juice.

Treat your seasonal allergies with herbs this year and see how much better you feel! And, Enjoy a symptom-free allergy season :) 

You can also use this formula to make an alcohol tincture.  Just follow these directions.
Using alcohol will lengthen the shelf life to 2 years, but it is not recommended as a children's allergy remedy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homemade Hair Stengthening/Growth Tonic

Ok, I have to admit, I am obsessed with making my hair grow- I have visions of my hair flowing over my shoulders and being everlastingly full and radiant!  Unfortunately, I have my father's hair- thin and stringy (when it gets too long).  My homemade hair products are wonderful, but none of them are helping with the length or fullness of my hair.  The quality of my hair has always been fine; I even had a fellow student (years ago) ask if she could touch my hair because it is so soft and shiny!  So, I am on a mission to find the perfect blend of hair-nourishing herbs that will make my locks healthy and full.

Bingo!  I found a recipe for a hair tonic with rosemary and stinging nettle that is supposed to stimulate your scalp and actually grow thicker hair.  I took that recipe and added some essential oils to aid in the scalp-stimulating properties of the tonic.

What you need to make your own herbal hair tonic:

1 T dried rosemary
1 T dried stinging nettle
1 c white vinegar
1 c filtered water
5 drops each: lemon and lavender essential oil

  • Put all ingredients (except essential oils) into a small pan.
  • Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to lowest setting and make a strong decoction. (takes about 1 hour)  Add more water if it gets too low!
  • Remove pan from heat and filter out the herbs.
  • Add essential oils when tonic has cooled to about 100 F.
  • Keep in a cool place and shake well before use.
To use:

Use sparingly on your scalp (apply either with a dropper or a small squirt bottle), using 10-15 drops and massaging it in with fingers.  Do NOT rinse.  
Since this has vinegar in it, it will have a slight odor at first, but that will dissipate once the tonic dries.  Use this tonic every-other day.

Enjoy your healthy scalp/hair!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Homemade Dandelion Wine

I love dandelions!  Not only are they bright and yellow (which happens to be my favorite color), but they are full of nutrients and can help you perform a "spring cleaning" on your liver! Dandelions have been used as a detoxifier and blood purifier for centuries. I think dandelions are beautiful herbs, not weeds, and they should be used and revered as such.

 From the Bulk Herb Store catalog:
    " (dandelion) is high in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium... This is the herb for improving      low blood pressure and helping build energy and endurance.  It is also one of the best liver                  cleansers and is therefore great for skin diseases."  

A few days ago, I was amazed at the abundance of dandelions in our yard.  So, I took my "little ones" and filled a sack with about 3 quarts of these lovely yellow flowers.  (Be sure to pluck the flowers in the morning when they first open.)

Then, we made a very strong dandelion infusion; just use equal parts flowers and boiling filtered water.  Let the infusion sit in a large stainless steel pot with a lid for 24-48 hours.  Then, strain the liquid into a fermenting vessel. (Be sure to squeeze all the goodness out of the flowers!) I used a small fermenting crock as my vessel.

To your (3 quarts) dandelion infusion, add:

  • 3/4 c unrefined cane sugar
  • juice of 2 oranges
  • peel of 1 orange (I used a vegetable peeler)
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • peel of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 c starter culture (I used water kefir, but you could also use whey)
Once the ingredients are mixed, cover the fermenting vessel with a cloth secured by a rubber band. Let the mixture sit for a couple of days, until you see signs of fermentation- bubbles!  Be sure to stir at least once a day in the meantime...

When you see bubbles, let the wine ferment for another 1-2 days, depending on the temperature of your home.  Stir and taste daily.

The dandelion wine is finished!  Bottle this lovely beverage and chill before enjoying a glass.  And, although it is called "wine", dandelion wine is safe for children to drink, as long as it doesn't sit around too long!  

To me, dandelion wine tastes a lot like European Orangina- So enjoy the benefits of dandelion in this tasty, citrus-y beverage!  And never take the dandelion for granted again ;)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Homemade Cream Conditioner and Liquid, Hot Process Shampoo

The Shampoo:

Although I love my henna shampoo bar, I was curious about making more liquid shampoo- not from an already-made soap like Dr Bronners, but from scratch.  I have made liquid soap before (click here for the post), but I wanted to use oils that could be used for moisturizing shampoo and infuse it with essential oils that would promote healthy hair.  Since my hair is thin, I chose a juniper berry/spearmint scent for the shampoo.  Juniper berry essential oil is one of the essential oils that actually promotes new hair growth :)  I just like the smell of spearmint!  I also didn't want to make the recipe too complex or I would only make it once... so, I chose oils that would be easy to find and kept the list at a minimum.

Here's my recipe for hot process shampoo (which could also be used as body wash!):

17.5 oz castor oil
17.5 oz coconut oil
22.5 oz sunflower oil

24 fl oz distilled water
12.8 oz KOH (potassium hydroxide)

1 gallon distilled water for dilution (yes, this make a LOT of shampoo)

1-2 oz essential oils (optional)- I used a 60/40 mixture of spearmint/juniper berry

I followed the instructions (with pictures) found on these Instructables directions :)  This is the best tutorial I have found regarding liquid soap.  Very easy and concise!   Although my cook time differed from the Instructables author, the process is the same.

A few notes:

  • Do not worry if you don't see every stage of liquid soap!  My soap passed by the "mashed potato" stage so quickly I didn't even see it...
  • I ended up cooking my soap for 7 hours before I felt it was clear enough.  
  • I did NOT add borax at the end because I was at a 3% superfat in my recipe- no excess lye needed to be neutralized in the finished product!

The Cream Conditioner:

I used to use a vinegar rinse as a conditioner, but I was never very fond of the smell or the difficulty with getting it through all of my hair.  It was also very cold when applying in the winter months- yikes!

I wanted to continue with the healthy/new hair growth theme of my shampoo, so I concocted a mixture of essential oils for that purpose.  Some essential oils you may want to try include:  ylang ylang, clary sage, lemon, rosemary, basil, cedarwood, cypress, peppermint, or a mixture.  Mine had a little bit of everything in it, and it turned out very sweet and herbal!

Here is the recipe that I found on

374 g distilled water
2 g liquid silk
22 g glycerin
27 g emulsifier
13 g jojoba oil
4 g sweet almond oil
4 g essential oils
( I did NOT add the preservative)

Heat all the ingredients (except essential oils) until solids have dissolved.
Hold that temp for 10 minutes.
Cool to 140 degrees before adding essential oils.

A couple notes:

  • I had to use my stick blender to get the fixed oils to incorporate completely.  Just be careful while the mixture is hot!
  • pour into a pump bottle immediately after adding the essential oils, as this will be hard to do once the conditioner is completely cooled.

The results:

I am very pleased with this shampoo/conditioner combo!!  Even my husband (who doesn't always like my concoctions) praised these products!!  Andy has hair past his shoulders and always has a hard time brushing his hair through when it's wet- with this combo, his hair is knot-free and shiny :)  I've recently had a major hair cut, and although I do not need detangling, my hair is soft and full of body.

Although the process of making this shampoo is a bit more time-consuming than the henna shampoo bar, it is well worth the effort!  And, since this recipe makes so much, you only have to make it every few months!  As far as the conditioner goes, I cannot think of an easier way to make anyone's hair soft and shiny- and no vinegar-y smell in your shower!  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Homemade, Fermented Mango-Peach Salsa

It is such a beautiful spring day!  Yes, I think spring is finally here in the mountains of Colorado- at least I hope so... :)
To celebrate warmer weather and greener things to come, I have made a delicious fermented treat- mango-peach salsa.  My youngest son LOVES this salsa, but mangoes are not a regular crop here- so I was so excited to find some organic mangoes in our local King Soopers.  If you've never had mangoes before, they compliment peaches so well!  Mangoes have a tropical, tangy flavor- sweet, but not pineapple sweet.  And, the color of the fruit is amazing- anywhere from yellow to dark orange. This recipe makes a colorful, happy salsa that tastes as good as it looks!

Here's what you'll need for your own salsa:

1 cup peaches, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup mangoes, peeled, pitted and diced
2 med. tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 c red onion
3/8 cup citrus juice (lemon, lime or grapefruit)
5 mint leaves, chopped
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped
1 t red pepper flakes
1/8 t cayenne pepper (optional)
1 t sea salt

Mix all ingredients together and press into a quart canning jar.  Cap tightly for 3-5 days, then transfer to cold storage.  That's it!

The mangoes and peaches blend nicely!

What a colorful salsa!  And, so yummy!

The finished product.  This won't last long...

Enjoy a little bit of summer starting now!

This post was inspired by this recipe on, a wonderful place for all things fermented!  (No, I am not getting paid to say that :))

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Homemade Orange-Ginger Carrot Kvass

All mixed up and ready to ferment!
I love beets, but I hate beet kvass.  There's no way to sugar coat it... I think it is too salty and tastes like dirt.  Period.  If you're like me, you love fermented drinks, but beet kvass is NOT on the menu. So, I discovered this recipe on the Cultures for Health  website and convinced myself to try kvass again... fingers crossed.

To make this beverage, you will need:

  • 6 carrots, sliced into thin coins
  • 2 T fresh ginger, chopped
  • 6 large strips orange zest (peel with potato peeler)
  • 4 t sea salt
  • About 1/2 gallon filtered, non-chlorinated water

I noticed bubbles after only 24 hours.

  • Place all ingredients in large glass container and stir to combine.  
  • Cover with a secured cloth and let ferment for 3-5 days.
  • Strain off liquid and bottle*- you can add a pinch of sweetener for added carbonation.
  • If doing a second ferment, let your sealed bottles sit on the counter for an additional 1-3 days.
  • Check for carbonation daily and move to cold storage before drinking.

Bottling day!  I added about 1 t honey per bottle for added carbonation.

*To make a second, weaker batch, leave 1 cup of liquid in your fermentation vessel with the remaining carrots, ginger and orange peel and re-fill with 1/2 gallon filtered water.  Leave to ferment for 3-5 days before bottling.  

I have to admit, this kvass is still salty.  It's not as "earthy" as the beet kvass, and I can drink it without making an "eww" face- but, I like bread kvass much better.  Experiement for yourself... which kvass is your favorite?  Whichever one you prefer, you are doing your tummy a favor by drinking this probiotic-rich beverage!  Enjoy!

My carrot kvass, ready for a second ferment!