Monday, March 2, 2015

The Plants - Florida Herbal Conference Part II

As I mentioned in Part I, the plants in Florida are much different than our New England plants.  Even across Florida there is quite a variety.  Florida is a large state, and ranges from Zone 8, where I live in the winter, to Zone 10 in southern Florida.  And there are coastal areas and inland areas, all having different micro climates.  So when talking about what grows, and how to grow, in Florida there is wide range of information.

The conference was in DeLeon Springs, which is north of Orlando and east of Ocala, just east of the Ocala National Forest.   The Ocala National Forest is the second largest nationally protected forest in the United States and covers 607 square miles of Central Florida.   It is the southernmost national forest in the US and protects the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest.  We drove through it to get to the conference and it is a beautiful and amazing place. 

In central Florida, we were able to see many blooming and growing plants at the end of February.  Some that I found interesting were:

Usnea – this is a picture of usnea growing on a broken limb hanging in a wild cherry tree and another of Jeanine holding it growing on a branch.   Usnea is a lichen and can be identified by the white thread that grows through it.  In central Florida, it grows most often on oak trees.   I have used dried usnea for urinary tract infections and it is also an immune tonic herb and high in Vitamin C.   I don’t recall ever seeing usnea growing in such profusion at home, it seemed to be just everywhere here!

Spanish Needle (Bidens Alba) – this is a common weed in Florida and in bloom in February.  The flowers and young leaves are edible and it is a great salad herb.  It can be used medicinally for colds and flu, inflammation and urinary tract infections.  I thought the cheery little flower was a wonderful sight and bidens is also the 3rd largest source of nectar for honeybees in Florida (behind saw palmetto and citrus fruit).

Gotu Kola (Centella erecta), sometimes called Pennywort – a cousin of Centella asiatica, these are so close that according to Green Deane only geneticists can tell the difference between the 2 species.  The picture is it growing right outside our tent by the lake, the gotu kola has the heart-shaped leaves.  While not native to North America, it is found in the southern part of the US and is thought to have been here for thousands of years.  In folklore, pennywort supposedly helped one Chinese master live to 256 years old.  Gotu kola is commonly used in Asian cooking and can be added to salads as well.  Medicinally, gotu kola increases memory and concentration, revitalizing nerve and brain cells.  It is also considered an adaptogen and is also antibacterial and antifungal.

Of course there were many more, some old familiars like plantain and elder and other new ones.  So many plants, so little time :-)

Florida Herbal Conference 2014 - Part I

I just returned from the Florida Herbal Conference held in DeLeon Springs this past weekend.   I had met Emily Ruff of the Florida School of Holistic living (who hosted the conference) at the NE Women’s Herbal Conference last summer and she talked about the Florida Conference and what’s better for someone from New England than to go to an herbal conference in February?   This is a fairly new conference - it was just their 4th year and they did a great job and it was a wonderful gathering.  I went with my daughter Jeanine and it was her first herbal conference so that made it even more special.

The conference was at Camp Winona, a Y camp on Lake Winona.  We pitched our tent next to the lake, and were treated by gotu kola growing wild right outside our tent door.  We ate a few leaves every morning to help with all the new things we were learning!  

I really enjoyed the weed walks as the plants in central Florida are very different than what we see in New England.  I went on a Medicinal and Edible walk with Juliet Blankespoor, who also gave an inspiring talk about bio-regional herbalism on Friday evening.  I had never seen usnea growing wild, or a long needle pine, or Spanish Needle (Bidens alba) to name a few.

On Sunday I went on an Eat the Weeds walk with Deane Jordan (Green Deane) and learned more about the differences in the plants in Florida from those in the Northeast.  Deane talked about the strength of stinging nettle in the south versus the northeast (MUCH stronger in the south) and that only the black (Sambucus nigra) elder grows naturally in Florida so no worries about toxic seeds.     Here's Deane holding up a stinging nettle with one of the thickest stems I have ever seen.

See more about the plants in Part II of the blog, Herbs at the Conference. 

On Saturday evening Stephen Foster was the keynote speaker and wove a wonderful story of the recent history of herbalism through his life experiences, from working at Sabathday Lake in Maine with the Shakers to his work with the Peterson Field Guides, all the books he has written and his work with the American Botanical Council.  It was interesting to reflect on how herbalism has grown and changed in the last 50 years and what our current challenges and opportunities are.   

And what is an herbal conference without Mz Imani drumming?  Even with pouring rain, the party with Mz Imani Saturday night had everyone dancing!  And she joined with Beautiful Chorus to make some amazing music during the entire weekend.

We enjoyed great food, wonderful teachers and workshops, friendly herbalists from all over Florida and the community that only a group of herb lovers can create over a few days.

And you know you've been to an herbal conference when the top of cars are used to hold plants.

Next year’s conference is February 26-28 with special guests Paul Stamets and Kathleen Maier.  Jeanine and I plan to attend, take a winter break and join us.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Horehound Cough Drops

Don’t you just love it when what you need is there when you need it?  The universe at work.  My husband came down with this weird cough and I had just noticed that the horehound in the garden was still green and vibrant.  Not sure how that happened in mid-December where there has already been snow and freezing weather, but not getting around to cleaning up that part of the garden paid off.

So I made him some horehound cough drops, something I have always wanted to try.  They came out great, now I just need more people with coughs J  Here’s the recipe, if you have given them a try or have any tips, let me know.

There are many recipes for horehound cough drops and I decided to keep it simple with just horehound, ginger and honey:
Horehound – 2 cups fresh (or 1 cup dried)
Ginger – a small finger, peeled and sliced
Water – 1 cup water to each cup herbs
Honey – 3 cups (1 ½ cups honey to 1 cup “tea”)
Cream of tartar – ½ tsp

Steep the horehound and ginger in the water, I used 2 cups of fresh horehound to 2 ½ cups water, allowing for some water evaporation.  Let steep 30 minutes, strain.  I had a little over 2 cups of “tea”.   Add “tea” to a large pot and add the honey and cream of tartar.  

Boil until mixture reaches 300 degrees, use a candy thermometer to ensure the mixture reaches candy stage.  Grease a flat pan with sides with butter or use cooking spray.  Pour mixture into pan and spread out.  Let cool.

 To make the cough drops I tried 3 different methods – balls, cut squares and breaking the candy into pieces.

1.       Balls – When the mixture cools to a point where it can be handled, roll a small amount of mixture into a ball.  Grease hands with butter so avoid sticking.  You need to work fast as the mixture gets hard pretty quickly.  Place on wax paper to cool completely and harden.

2.       Squares – When the mixture cools to the point it is like salt water taffy, roll it out and cut with a sharp knife into squares.  Place on wax paper to cool completely and harden.  Of the 3 methods, I thought this was the easiest and came out the best.

3.       Break into pieces – while the mixture is in the pan and it has cooled to the taffy consistency, score the mixture into bite size pieces.  When totally hardened, remove from pan and break into pieces.  I found I could easily remove the candy from the pan but that it didn’t crack at all like I had scored it.  It was difficult to know the exact best time to score it, I tried at several points.  So this came out as chunks of cough drops.

Store the finished cough drops in an airtight container, I lined a tin with wax paper to store them.  This recipe made a lot of cough drops, probably at least 75 in various sizes (and chunks).  I’m not sure of the shelf life, will need to do some more research to figure that out.

A few tips from the experience:
The mixture boils up quite a bit, I had to change pots twice to allow it to boil rapidly enough to get to the high temperature and not boil over the sides of the pot.  So use a very big pot.

I’m not sure what the purpose of the cream of tartar is.  I thought it was to help keep the mixture from foaming when boiling, but I had quite a bit of foam when it boiled and still some when I poured it into the pan.  I tried adding some butter to the mixture to stop the foaming as that helps when making jellies, but it didn’t seem to make a difference either.

Get a candy thermometer.  I didn’t have one so had to do continually testing to see when it got to the candy stage and eventually just guessed.   It would have helped quite a bit.

Experiment, next time I will try adding some other herbs, maybe rosemary and/or thyme too?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Coriander Harvest Time

It's only recently that I started using coriander in my cooking and I've found out I love the flavor.  So this year I decided to harvest my own.

Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, Coriandrum sativum.  Lots of people don't know that they come from the same plant, and in the US we tend to call the green leaves cilantro and the seed of the plant coriander.  In England the leaves are called coriander also so if you have a recipe make sure you know whether it is referring to the leaf or seed.

So on this beautiful Fall day with the trees in all their glory I basked in the glow of the red, orange and gold shining on the garden and harvested the coriander.

In order to have the seeds you need to let some of your cilantro bolt and go to seed.  That's not difficult, and if you're like me the cilantro seems to bolt when I'm not looking!  So let a few plants flower and then the flowers will turn to seeds.  You want to make sure that the seeds are brown, as the picture above, not green when you harvest them.  The green seeds will be bitter and also contain too much moisture to store for any length of time successfully.

I like the paper bag method of harvesting seeds and use the same method for coriander that I do with dill.  Once the seeds are brown, I cut the stems and place them seeds and all in a brown paper sandwich bag.  You can use a larger brown shopping bag if you like or a plastic bag, whatever works for you.  I then shake the stems and the seeds pretty much just fall off.  For those that don't, I just rub them on the stem and they fall off.

Coriander seeds are small and easily drop all over the place.  I like to shake the stem just a little bit over the garden when I cut it so the seeds will self-sow for more cilantro plants next year.  The harvesting can be a bit messy so who knows where the cilantro will show up?

I also save a few seeds for planting next year, just in case the self-sowing doesn't happen but I usually find cilantro and dill popping up all over the garden in the Spring which I love.

So plan to harvest your own coriander next year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

World Wide Fire Cider Making Day Feb 2nd

I wrote the article linked below for Spirit of Change Magazine about the current controversy going on about the trademarking of the term Fire Cider.  In honor of this, a World Wide Fire Cider Making Day is being held Feb 2nd - make up a batch to help you through this cold winter! 

Click here to read the article:   Keep Fire Cider Free

Update:  Here is the Fire Cider my daughter and I made on Sunday for World Wide Fire Cider Making Day.  It was fun and came out great, need to let it sit for a few weeks and then we'll be drinking it up.  If you made some, share a pic!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Elderberry Harvest

One of the most frustrating things about trying to harvest elderberries I've found is that the birds get to the berries before I do!   I have several spots where I pick some of the elder flowers and then wait anxiously for the berries and then for them to ripen and then all hope is dashed when they are suddenly gone.

So I decided last year that I would plant my own elderberry in a new garden spot where I would try to keep the birds away.  So far it has worked and I picked the first of the berries today.

So how do you harvest elderberry?  Harvest ripened berries in August or September, they seem very early this year.  Ripened berries are purple or dark red, don't pick them when they are still green.  Clip the entire berry head on the stem right below the berries.

The berries need to be kept cool.  Strip them off the stem and place in the refrigerator.  The stems contain a gluey substance so you don't want stems in whatever you are making.  Removing the stems can be a very time consuming process.  Some people use a fork or comb, others freeze the berries first and the stems fall off - you will need to find what works best for you.  I do it the old fashioned way and just pluck them off.  Be careful not to crush the berries and lose the juice however.

 Keep the berries refrigerated and use immediately or the berries can be dried or frozen for future use.  Uncooked berries have a dark purple juice and are inedible and astringent - make sure to cook the elderberries before you ingest them.

My favorite use of elderberries is to make elderberry syrup, and if I can get enough berries this year I want to try making some elderberry jam.   Elder wine is a popular use also.  What are your favorite uses of elderberries?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm!  It has been ages since I've added a new post, but a great workshop on lemon balm at the International Herb Symposium presented by Mimi Hernandez had such great information I just had to share.  I for one take my lemon balm for granted and often curse at it as it pops up all over the garden, never where I want it, and can easily take over a whole bed if I'm not careful.  So its easy to forget what a wonderful  herb this is and why it should be all over the garden.

I thought I knew a lot about lemon balm but as with all herbs, there is always more to learn.  The botanical name, Melissa, is Greek for honeybee.  I learned that lemon balm planted around bee hives keep bees happy, and also repels flies and mosquitos.

I often use lemon balm as an effective nervine for anxiety and sleep but learned that its relaxant properties are also helpful with hypertension, irritable bowel and colic. 

Research being done on lemon balm shows effectiveness in cognitive improvement and can be helpful with Alzheimers.

Lemon balm also helps with thyroid activity and is beneficial for hyperthyroidism.  There seems to be conflicting views about its effects on hypothyroidism, some say it has a negative effect by dropping TSH and others that it has a balancing effect on the thyroid and regulates it.  Seems like there needs to be more studies in this area.

And to top it off, lemon balm is antiviral helping with flu, measles, shingles and herpes.  A tincture can be made at a 45% alcohol level.  It has a relatively short shelf life so it was recommended that tincture be made fresh every year.

And check out Mimi's website and her One World Healing Community,  She's a great teacher and a wealth of information.