Friday, July 17, 2015

Homemade Herbal Infusion

I'm sure all of you have tried an herbal infusion from dried herbs (also known as herbal "tea").  But, did you know that you can make an infusion from fresh herbs, found right in your own yard?  I will demonstrate how to do this, and believe me, it is so easy you'll want to harvest a different herb every day to try it out!

Today, I harvested a few stalks of Wild Bee Balm.  I found a patch of it out near the aspen grove on the side of our house just the other day... it is an edible/ medicinal herb and has been used by Native American tribes to treat colds and the flu- it is also related to Thyme, so it is a spicy herb.  I ate a leaf raw and it was quite spicy on my tongue!  If you eat it raw, make sure you mix it with other greens in a salad.  This is definitely not an herb you want to eat a lot of by itself.  But, in an infusion, it is much more mild; very fragrant and delicious!

Wild Bee Balm, freshly harvested

To check out other pictures of Wild Bee Balm (or other edibles), check out this website!  Edible Wild Foods is a great place to start when choosing herbs to use in teas or recipes...  Lots of great information!!

Wild Bee Balm, ready to infuse

Since I am using only the leaves and flowers of Wild Bee Balm to make my infusion, I have stripped the stems of all infusible parts and washed them of any debris or creepy crawlies :)  Since I am only using the soft parts of the plant, I will do a quick 10-15 minute steep in boiling water.  Just heat your filtered water to boiling (less is better, so you can always dilute the finished infusion to your taste). Then, take the infusion pot off heat and add your herb.  Cover with a lid and let it sit, steeping, for 10-15 minutes.  (If I were using a "harder" part of the plant, like the root or bark, I would make a decoction by simmering the plant material for the allotted time- anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on the herb).

Wild Bee Balm

When your infusion is done steeping, just filter off the herb with a mesh strainer or cheesecloth and enjoy!  I sweetened my infusion with a bit of honey, since Wild Bee Balm is a bit spicy and it was delish!  If your infusion is a bit too strong for your taste, just dilute with hot water until it is to your liking.  

A cuppa homemade herbal infusion

Enjoy your homemade concoction and know that your body thanks you!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Drying Herbs Without a Dehydrator

Now that I have shown you the edibles/medicinal herbs I have found in our yard, I will demonstrate how to preserve them for future use!  Dried herbs are very handy when it comes to making an extract/tincture/salve for the winter months, when you know the fresh herbs won't be available.
Just follow a few easy steps and you'll have a good supply of medicinal herbs, just when you need them!

Broadleaf Plantain, drying after a thorough wash

The first of two methods for drying herbs is bag drying:

1.  Pick the herb that you will be preserving.  Be sure to harvest the correct part of the plant- for some plants, this may be the leaf and for others, the root!  For some plants, it is your research before harvesting any medicinal herb.

2.  Wash your herbs.  You picked these plants from the great outdoors- be sure there is nothing in your medicine that you don't want in there!  I gently wash my herbs in a colander, making sure each individual picking is washed of any debris, dirt or other organic matter.

3.  Dry off your herbs.  Just place the washed herbs on a paper towel and let the water evaporate.  This will prevent wet spots from getting trapped between your herbs- moisture breeds mold, and you don't want that!

Catmint and Common Yarrow, freshly harvested

4.  When the herbs are dried off, place them loosely in a paper bag.  Do not stuff too many in there or the air won't circulate- once again, you want the herbs to dry, not ferment.  Label your bag before putting it up!

Make sure to label and date your bags of herbs!

5.  Shake your bagged herbs every day to circulate the air and help the plant material dry.  It may take a week or so to completely dry out the plants, so check the herbs until they are crispy dry and ready to put into storage. (I use recycled glass jars, tightly sealed, and store them in a dark cabinet.)

Red Clover, ready to store for future use

The second method for drying herbs is hanging.  This is ideal for herbs with long stems :)

(Follow #1-3 in the directions for bag drying)

4.  When the herbs are dried off, divide the herbs into small bunches.  Secure the stems of the bunches with rubber bands or string, to make sure none of the plant material will fall when hung upside down.
A small bunch of Catmint, ready to hang!

5.  Find a dry place and string up your herbs!  You could hang them from nails in your pantry or a string across your laundry room- wherever they will be out of the way and in no danger of being disturbed.  The first time I tried this, I hung them in my pantry, but quite low.  The ending result was more dried leaves on the floor than left for storage!  Hang the plants well out of reach of little fingers :)

6.  Check the herbs often and store in air-tight jars when crispy dry.

Take advantage of Natures bounty!  Stock up on your local medicinal herbs before the frosts come this fall.  And enjoy your good health all winter long!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Eat Your Yard! (Continued)

Since posting about edibles in our yard, I have found even more of them!  Here are a few more things you are bound to find in and around your yard, even in the city...  don't use Round-up to poison these edibles- harvest them!  Foraging is not only fun, but it's FREE :)

Red Clover

You are probably familiar with Red Clover already, but did you know that this lovely plant (from the legume family, none the less) is edible and medicinal?  Red Clover is found all over the United States, and is commonly used as cattle feed!  As you can see in the pictures, this species of clover has pretty pink blossoms and "stripes" on the leaves.  It usually grows in large patches in open, sunny fields (or in the middle of your yard!).

The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or tossed into a salad- they also make a nice tea!  Some people experience bloat when eating large quantities of red clover, so pace yourself.

Traditional Chinese medicine believed that it was a good tonic for colds, to purify the blood, and at one time they burned it as incense. Native Americans used it as a salve for burns, as well as for bronchial problems. Many cultures have traditionally used red clover to treat whooping cough, respiratory problems, psoriasis, eczema and even cancer. Red clover is one of the herbs in Essiac, which is a herbal blend for cancer patients, and grows in many areas around the world. 

Sweet Red Clover blossoms

Broadleaf Plantain

The next edible/medicinal herb is Broadleaf Plantain- a great herb to have around in case of an insect sting, burn, open wound, or intestinal upset!  Plantain is not only edible, but packed with nutrients.  It grows alongside roads or your driveway, in our case :)  It is easily recognizable by the long, stringy veins in the leaves, as seen in the picture below:

The stringy veins of the Braodleaf Plantain leaf

When using plantain as a wild green, it is prefered to blanch the leaves first to make them more tender.  This plant tends to be a little tough and slightly bitter when eaten fresh.  After blanching, the leaves can be frozen for future use in soups, casseroles or sauteed!  Dried leaves make a great tea for digestive problems.

Braodleaf Plantain along the driveway

As you can see, Broadleaf Plantain grows all along our driveway... I showed my youngest son how to chew the leaves and apply them to insect bites, since he tends to swell when stung.  The medicinal qualities of plantain draw out the poison from stings and hasten healing from burns or open wounds.

Oriental Poppy

I was amazed at the beauty of this Oriental Poppy!  But, poppies aren't just ornamental... their seeds are delicious to harvest after the blooms have faded away!  Just harvest the seed pods when they start to brown and let them dry in your kitchen.  When the pod is fully dried, open them to reveal the nutritious seeds inside!  

Poppy seeds are known to decrease levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and are high is dietary fiber.  The seeds are excellent source B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. Many of these vitamins functions as co-factors in substrate metabolism especially fat and carbohydrates.  Poppy seeds contain good levels of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium.

Small amounts of opium alkaloids in poppy seeds have been found to have some beneficial effects on the human body; soothe nervous irritability, act as painkillers. Its seed extractions found useful in pharmacy and in many traditional medicines in the preparations of cough mixtures, expectorants, etc.

Milk Thistle

The last edible I will show you is Milk Thistle.  Although this plant is very spiky and unfriendly-looking, I assure you it is quite edible!  It is a tall (it can reach 3 ft in height), spiny plant that grows in full sun just about everywhere... I have seen them as far south as Florida and well into the Rocky Mountains.

The flowers of this plant (although they aren't blooming at this altitude yet) are light purple and bloom on the terminus of the plant stalk.  All parts of the plant are edible, even the roots.  Thistle leaves can be eaten raw, sometimes as a spinach substitute, after the spines are removed.  Flower buds can be cooked, as can the stem after peeling and soaking to reduce bitterness. Thistle can be used as an asparagus or rhubarb substitute or added to salads.  Milk Thistle seeds can even be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute!

As a medicinal herb, it is a great tonic, increases appetite and aids in digestion. It is used by many people, including those who were addicted to alcohol to cleanse the liver. Milk thistle is used internally in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis, acne and poisoning (including mushroom poisoning). 

Explore your surroundings!  You'll be surprised at all the edibles you find in your area :)
Enjoy nature and its bounty!