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.