Friday, August 1, 2008

Not Meant to Have St John's Wort Oil this Year!

On the Elder Flower Adventure, I started picking St John's Wort to make oil. This is one of my favorite things to do every summer. The flowers are a beautiful shiny buttercup yellow and the oil of the plant a blood red color. When the flowers and flower buds are infused in oil, the oil turns a brilliant ruby red color. I like to use the oil in the lip balms I make as it is good for sun protection and soothing and healing to the lips, especially if they get chapped in the winter.

But I'll have to get some oil from friends this year. I started off well with the flowers I first picked, adding them to jojoba oil. But after a few days I noticed it wasn't turning the red color it should but was rather a pinky color. It had been stormy so I hadn't put it out in the full sun as I usually do so I figured it just didn't get enough heat and I moved it.

I kept picking flowers and one of the wonderful things about St John's Wort is that it pops up all over! I found it on the farm where I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I asked the farmer if I could pick the St John's wort and he didn't even know what it was, so I pointed out all the beautiful plants growing in the field (alongside lots of red clover) and he said I was welcome to whatever I wanted to pick. I also found it in my yard (where I'm always careful to mow around it) and on the golf course.

I was golfing one evening and came around a corner to a spot that had elder flower, which of course I now see everywhere, several large mullein plants and St John's Wort. I was ready to stop the game and go pick herbs, but the women I was golfing with didn't understand why I would go want to pick some weeds and I couldn't hold the game up!

But I digress.....As I picked new St John's Wort, I started a new jar of oil in case the pink one was just ruined. Using organic olive oil this time, it turned a nice red and I was happily adding flowers as I found them to my oil mixture out in the sun. All was going well, until....

We had terribly humid weather for a period and a friend who was visiting noticed my oil and commented that there was condensation on the inside of the jars. Not a good thing for oil! So I replaced the jar lids with cheesecloth, folded over several times and secured with a rubber band around the lid. This allowed enough air that the condensation went away and I was merrily continuing adding flowers to my oil.

And then yesterday afternoon there was a large thunderstorm. It hadn't been forecasted, and my jars of oil were out in the sun, brewing away. And now that there was cheesecloth instead of the jar lids, the rain poured into my jars.

Oil and water definitely do not mix and I'm heartsick to lose my oil. Most of the St John's Wort has stopped blooming, so there's really nothing left to do until wait for next year.

Lesson learned!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Elder Flower Adventure

Having just made a non-alcoholic elder flower cordial for a Cordials & Liqueurs workshop at the store, I decided I needed to make more for the herbal apprentice class coming up in a few weeks. But where to find elder flowers? Faith, my fellow herbalist and teacher, had brought the elder flowers to the workshop and I knew they were passing their prime quickly. Driving home yesterday taking my usual backroad shortcuts, I glanced over at the woods and what did I see - flowering elder! I drove past again and clocked the mileage from the trees to home, exactly 2 miles. I could bike there in the morning and pick the elder flowers.

So this morning the adventure began. I just got my bike last week, deciding with my husband that we needed to do something to get into shape as well as have something we would enjoy doing together. I went out once and made it about a mile or so. But this should be easy, what is 4 miles round trip?

Alot, at least for me. Setting out around nine to beat the hot humid weather forecasted for the day didn't work. It was hot and humid. I had made my usual fruit yogurt shake for breakfast, and when I took a sip of the ice cold water I had brought, Vesuvius broke out in my stomach. About a mile and a half in, I pulled over, sat on someone's lawn and thought I would lose breakfast. But it passed, and I was determined to get to the elder.

Heading to my spot, I passed another elder. Ha ha! I don't have to bike the full 4 miles and can still get my elder flowers. As I approached the flowers I saw the large swath of poison ivy surrounding it. Faith had encountered prehistoric size mosquitos in her elder flower quest, and my bane was poison ivy. So I decided to pass walking in the poison ivy and to reach my original destination.

I biked, I walked, I wanted to throw up and I reached "my" elder flowers. They were beautiful, and also surrounded by poison ivy. I was picking them, poison ivy or not! After all this I was not going home without elder flowers. So I gingerly walked through the poison ivy, picked the flowers and headed back home.

I started feeling a bit better on the way back and took it easy, walking the bike up the hills. There are no flat roads around here! I stopped at the first elder I had found, and the flowers were beautiful and in their prime so I decided to brave the poison ivy and pick some more. Thankfully the poison ivy was also surrounded by jewelweed, so after picking I opened the stems of some jewelweed, smeared it all over my legs and hoped for the best. Poison ivy and I have a long, painful history and I treat it with much respect and usually stay as far away as possible.

With a bag full of elder flowers, I headed home. Reaching the center of town, I noticed St John's wort blooming. Well how could I ride past that? So I stopped and picked St John's wort flowers to make an oil. I had only brought one bag, so the St John's wort went in with the elder flowers, mixing colorfully.

I got home, got out the Tecru and washed all over in fear of the poison ivy oil and jumped in the pool to cool off.

Refreshed, I sorted out the elder and St John's wort flowers and made an infusion of the elder flowers and set the St John's wort flowers to wilt a bit before making the oil.

Here's the elder flower cordial recipe that started the whole adventure. It is well worth it! It makes a lot, so can be reduced. I am infusing the elder flower in the water to freeze it, and then make the syrup in a few weeks.

English Elderflower Cordial
5 cups water
3 pounds sugar
1 lemon, sliced
25 large elderflower heads
6 tablespoons citric acid
Sparkling or still mineral water to dilute

Place the water in a large plan and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and lemon and remove from the heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Place on the heat again and return to a boil. Add the elderflower heads and citric acid and bring to a boil once more. Remove from the heat and leave to stand until cool. Strain and bottle in clean bottles with corks. This can be drunk immediately. If stored in a cool place, it should keep about three months. When serving, dilute with 5 parts water and add ice.

Yield: approximately 2 quarts of syrup
Source: Drink to Your Health, Anne McIntyre