Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Herbs in Shortbread!!

It has been a busy month.  We had an outdoor show near the beginning of the month and have a Halloween show at the end of the month and we have been making seasonal items in between.

We sent out a huge order of shortbread mixes this month too!

For the order we tweeked the recipe for our older Herbed Shortbread and renamed it Lemon Lavender Shortbread and we crafted an oatmeal shortbread with seasonal spices as well as a Chocolate shortbread. And we also included our Orange Poppy seed Shortbread and a new Holiday Shortbread with great seasonal spices.

To make the best shortbread you need flour, sugar and butter and not much else.  this wonderful simple combination lends itself wonderfully to including herbs.  Try these quick variation using a traditional shortbread recipe.

Traditional Shortbread
    1 1/2 cups. flour
     3/4 cup powdered sugar

     1/2 tsp. salt
     1 cup butter

Cream the butter and sugar.  Then add in the flour and salt. Knead the dough on an unfloured surface until it is nice and smooth and no longer crumbly.

Spray a shortbread pan or use a parchment lined baking sheet.  Working from the center, press the dough into the pan into the shape of a circle. Prick the entire surface with a fork, bake the shortbread at 325 degrees F. for 30 to 35 minutes.  Allow shortbread to cool in pan for 10 minutes before loosening the edges with a fork.  Then flip onto a cutting board and tap firmly.  Cut into serving pieces while still warm.

Variation #1
Add 1 tsp lavender buds and 1 tsp lemon balm to traditional recipe and complete as directed.

Variation #2
Add 2 Tbls baking cocoa and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract to traditional recipe and complete as directed.

Variation #3
Add 1 tsp. savory, 1 tsp. rosemary & 1 tsp thyme to traditional recipe and complete as directed.

Variation #4
Change sugar to light brown sugar and add 1 tsp. Backyard Patch Cinnful Desert Blend.  Complete as directed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Herbal teas

In the Fall I begin thinking about making new tea blends.  I do not know why the fall affects me that way, but as soon as the evenings cool, not only am I making tea, but I am crafting new tea blends in my head.  It could be the abundance of dried material that I have available come fall or it could be a reaction to the gathering of scents from the garden that I have absorbed during the growing season.  Either way I start formulating blends. 

Some of this mental formulating I  turn into blends to try and each Fall I make two tea blends that are only available only until January that i market to Backyard Patch customers.. This year they are:

Silver and Gold
An all herb blend of silver sage with calendula petals and chamomile for gold along with a touch of cinnamon and the robust flavor of marjoram make this a flavorful and relaxing blend for evening drinking around the warm fire.
2013 Tea blend "Comfort & Joy"

Holly and Ivy
I crafted a wonderful red and green blend this year.  Rooibos (Honey Bush) with Green Tea mixed with a bit of hibiscus and rose hips and a touch of lemon balm make this refreshing tea perfect for Christmas morning.
To get you in a tea mood I also have some ideas for making your own tea at home. Try out one of these recipes, or let them inspire you to explore your pantry and whip up some tasty brews with whatever ingredients you have on hand.

Seasonal Spices --

Star Anise, Allspice, and Orange
In a small pot, combine 2 whole star anise, 2 dried organic orange peels, and 5 allspice berries. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and steep for 5 minutes, covered. Strain and drink.

Apple and Cinnamon
In a small pot, combine ½ cup dried apples and 1 cinnamon stick. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and steep for 5 minutes, covered. Pour the tea into a mug and drink, and then munch on the soft, warm apple slices at the bottom! You can reuse the cinnamon stick several times.

Seasonal Healing --

Ginger, Thyme, Cayenne, Lemon
Combine 1 teaspoon dried ginger and 1 teaspoon thyme in a small pot. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and steep for 5 minutes, covered. Strain the tea into a mug and add a pinch of cayenne powder and a dash of fresh lemon juice. This brew will help boost immunity in cold and flu season. Plus the cayenne adds a bit of clearing for better breathing.

Mint, Lemon and Fennel Seed
Combine 1 tsp any kind of mint with 1 tsp. lemon peel or lemon herbs (like lemon balm, lemon thyme or lemon grass) in a tea pot.  Pour over 2 cups of boiling water and allow to steep for 5 minutes.  Add a few seeds of fennel just before you strain into cups. This will sweeten and give it a licorice kick.  You can add a bit of lemon and more sweetness with honey if you want.  The lemon and mint will soothe sore throats and make breathing easier.

What are some of your favorite fall tea combinations?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Fall Splendor Bath Soak - Bath Blend of the Month

Time again for the month bath blend.  This time I chose something that uses a mix of herbs with a fall scent.  These make a great refreshing bath as well as having wonderful germ fighting properties.

Fall Splendor Bath Soak

1 1/2 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup Epsom salt
1/8 cup baking soda
2 Tbls. cornstarch
1/2 cup thyme
1/2 cup  sage
1/2 cup mint
1/2 cup rosemary
1/2 cup bay leaves

Blend ingredients together and keep in a tightly sealed glass jar.  Use ¼ to ½ cup of blend in a muslin bag or cheese cloth pouch. 

To use: Either hang them on the tap while the hot water is running, making sure the water is running through them. Once the tub is filled, let them float around. Or use the infusion method. Boil a quart of water, turn off heat, add pouch, cover, then steep (for at least 20 minutes for best results). Add the piping hot infusion (and the bag) to a full tub, being careful while pouring to avoid burning yourself. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Scent of Herbs

This year I had a community garden where it became obvious that I am really good at growing herbs, but perhaps not so great at vegetables.  I put a small edging of herbs along the front of the 20’ x 20’ garden which prospered in this odd season of no hot weather and too much rain.

At my regular herb garden I have a special shed with a black roof to speed drying.  But I was not going to transport the herbs from the garden in Elmhurst to the herb garden 7 miles to the north, so I filled the gathering basket and took the herbs to the apartment.  I had forgotten in the years we lived in this apartment what it smelled like to have fresh herbs drying inside. 

I have bundled the herbs, and hung them on hangers, spread them on paper towel lined plates on my riser and spread them on cooking sheets. It has kinda taken over the dining room, but since we never eat in the dining room this was not much of a big deal.  

And the smell it is really wonderous.  The mixture of lemon and mint and thyme and basil and oregano is a heady combination.  Sometimes it makes me hungry.  Other times it just makes me relax.

They say that the scent of herbs is very healing. 

Mint and lemon balm are laid out on paper towel on my cookie baking sheets.  You can see the paper bags which hold the thyme.  This is the best way to dry thyme.  It takes only a couple of days and you can then strip it into the bag and pour into a jar.  It sure beats trying to bundle those tiny stems.  I have always tossed cut thyme into a bag, in the shed I binder clip the bags to the edges of the building interior.

The mint, lemon balm, fennel, dill, oregano and basil all hang from the hangers.  In a couple of days I can pull of the crisp dry bundles and toss them into a storage bag.

The healing power of the scents could account for the fact that Hubby’s fall allergies (and accompanying snoring) have been almost non-existent.  And my insomnia is easily cured by sleeping on the couch, which is right next to the dining room.

So if you have herbs that have flourished this year, cut them and hang them in your home, not only will you enjoy the healing power of the scents, you will be carrying on an ages old tradition of wise herb growing women for the last thousand years who know that herbs are good for us!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goldenrod - Herb of the Week

This particular plant is in bloom right now.  Often confused with Ragweed and thought to cause allergic reactions, this plant is actually very helpful in teas, tonic, and tinctures.  So in honor of it blooming in all its glory right about now, I have chosen

Goldenrod Solidago spp. as Herb of the Week

When the tall spires of goldenrod begin to boast their yellow blooms I know we have reached fall.  That color seems to by synonymous with the season change.  Goldenrod is a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family and grows all over the world and most species are probably medicinal in some respect or another.

The name solidago means "to make whole." Historical references site using goldenrod poultices for healing wounds and for use on burns. Also known as Blue Mountain Tea and Liberty Tea certainly hints at its medicinal uses in history.

Goldenrod is a delicious edible. The flowers can be fried up as fritters and the mild tasting leaves can be cooked and eaten as well. I recently learned that the goldenrod stem makes a great "hand drill" to start a fire. Instead of using a bow drill, you twirl the goldenrod stem around with your palms to create the friction and heat to start the fire.  They might need this info on the next “Survivor.”

One of my herbalist friends makes a dye from goldenrod.  She colored wool roving and yarn, and silk scarves, saying the color was so bright and pretty. 


There are over 100 species of goldenrods (Solidago). Solidago virgaurea, S. canadensis, S. gigantea, and S. odora as well as others.  All commonly used in a similar manner. Each species has varying degrees of qualities however. One species may be more bitter than the next, or more astringent. Most of the time these plants grow as weeds filling empty areas and field margins. I do not know of anyone in Illinois planting goldenrod on purpose, but I have seen the seed in catalogs.  It is a natural prairie plant and in my recent walks to restored prairie areas and areas left to grow wild it is prolific.

The leaves grow opposite and are lance-shaped.  The flowers are numerous and yellow appearing at the top of the stalk with a large number of blooms populating a single branch.

I haven't heard of any Solidago variety being harmful, but it is always best to know exactly what you are harvesting and using. Check with local sources to see if your local varieties have a history of use.

Medicinal Uses

Almost all the parts of Goldenrod can be used for medicinal concoctions.  The Fresh flower or flowering tops can be tinctured, flower infused honey, root tincture, infusion or strong tea of dried leaves or flowering tops, flower or flowering tops infused oil, flower elixir, this list goes on.

Goldenrod has a long history of use for the urinary system. It has been used for urinary tract infections as a tool for strengthening the kidneys. Goldenrod is both astringent and antiseptic. By tightening and toning the tissues of the urinary system, as well as providing action against bacteria, goldenrod is well suited to addressing bladder and urinary tract infections. Many of the older herbal literature sources cite it being used for kidney stones and it is still being used this way.

The German Commission E has officially approved goldenrod for the treatment of bladder and urinary system inflammations.

Another area where goldenrod shines is for allergic reactions or seasonal allergies. I use it in many of my seasonal formulas (often combined with peach and plantain) and have seen it completely eliminate the itchy-red-eyes, runny nose and excessive sneezing symptoms for many people.

Goldenrod also works really well for cat dander allergies. I suggest that people keep start with a small does and keep increasing the dose until relief is found.

Many people despise goldenrod and blame it for their fall sniffles. However, the more likely culprit is ragweed an Ambrosia species. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects, not by wind. As a result, its pollen is heavy and sticky and does not readily float through the air and thus into people's noses to cause the offending symptoms.

In recent times goldenrod has gained popularity for reliving many different aches and pains from chronic arthritis and acute injuries. It can be infused into oil and rubbed into the painful areas for this purpose.  Using the flowers in oils makes a lovely golden color and is nice used in cosmetic items. Barbara Hall over at Lady Barbara’s Garden has also popularized it for all sorts of achy pains, including arthritis in the hands and many people swear by the oil for their painful, stiff fingers come winter.

Goldenrod has 4 times the antioxidant levels of green tea.  Antioxidants are often called the key to good health and longevity. They can rid the body of free radicals, thus reducing the oxygenation of our cells. This process is often blamed for the aging process. Goldenrod is a good source of the constituent rutin. This flavonoid is well-known for its antioxidant benefits and is considered especially beneficial for heart health. I think the best part about this news is that goldenrod makes a rather tasty tea.  Slightly sweet and astringent with a hint of volatile oils it is a tea treat.  Drinking the tea can relieve some flu symptoms and may be useful for treating kidney stones.  Although a tincture may be better way to use it medicinally for kidney treatments.

Almost no known issues are recorded for goldenrod, although Aster family plant sensitivity is possible. Some sources recommend avoiding during pregnancy, but I don’t know a specific reason for this. But please, do not use goldenrod as a substitute for medical care in cases of serious kidney disease or infection.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mustard Dill Sauce - weekend recipe

Both here and on Facebook for the last couple weeks I have been sharing recipes you can make with herbal vinegar.  today I am sharing a great sauce with dill and mustard.  This makes a fine hollandaise-style sauce you serve cold over vegetables, poached eggs, grilled chicken and fish.

Mustard Dill Sauce

½ cup fresh dill
¼ cup Dijon Mustard
3 Tbls. Plain nonfat yogurt
1 Tbls honey
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a blender or food processor, combine dill, mustard, vinegar, yogurt and honey until well blended.  With motor running slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream and continue blending until thick and smooth.  Place in a covered bowl and chill until served.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Creamy Low Calorie Tomato Dressing - Weekend Recipe

It is Herbal Vinegar season and in honor of the fact that I just posted the new batches of vinegar in my Etsy Shoppe this week I thought I would share a recipe that uses an herbal vinegar.  Now I crafted this to go with Tarragon wine vinegar, but by changing the herbal vinegar and the fresh herbs used you can use any herb-based vinegar you have.

Creamy Low Calorie Tomato Dressing

3/4 cup tomato juice (or V-8)
1/2 cup low-fat or no-fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup tarragon wine vinegar
1 large egg, hard boiled and peeled
1 Tbls. soy sauce
1 Tbls. fresh tarragon, minced
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.  Store in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for no more than a week.
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