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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bath Blend of the Month -- Southwest Scrub

I always think of cornmeal as a fall items.  The cooler weather means soup time and cornbread so I save this recipe for fall.  Plus exfoliating all the flakes sunburned skin is good to do this time of year also!

Blue cornmeal is an ancient food that also makes a rejuvenating full-body treatment. The Hopi Indians of New Mexico have used blue cornmeal for years to improve vitality and make their skin look more youthful. Mixing it with dried herbs, ground oatmeal and a mild soap enhances this age-old cleanser. If you cannot find blue cornmeal at your marketyou may substitute white or yellow cornmeal for a different coloredbut just as effective, scrub.


1/2 cup ground blue cornmeal
1/2 cup grated castile soap (or other mild bar soap)
1/4 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon dried calendula flower petals
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers

Place cornmeal and grated soap in a large bowl. Using a spice or coffee grinder, finely grind oatmeal and dried herbs. Add this mixture to cornmeal mixture and stir well. Pour into a clean, airtight container. 

To use: Apply as you would any cleanser, and massage all over. Rinse well and then moisturize your skin with a natural oil or rich body lotion. If you have very sensitive skin avoid using this cleanser on your face.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Catnip - Herb of the Week

My cats have been bored since there was another heat wave here and I would not let them out on the patio in the humidity.  As a result they were bugging me to share the catnip.  So I chose as this week’s herb of the week -- Catnip Nepeta cataria

A perennial herb, belonging to the family Labiatae, the catnip plant, most commonly serves as a piece of recreation for house cats. Apart from this, the herb is also popular for its soothing effects and medicinal use for treating cold and flu symptoms and digestive problems. This is the reason why most people enjoy a tea made from the herb. Tinctures, infusions, and poultices have also been crafted from catnip.

In ancient times Catnip was cultivated for cats by the Greeks and Romans. Catnip symbolized fertility and was associated with goddesses of a cat figure and a lion. It was believed to change women into cats at night. In the language of flowers it is said to mean intoxication with love.

In medieval times it was grown in kitchen gardens as a flavorful salad herb and eaten fresh with other greens. It was also used to season meats, because of its robust flavor. 

 also a great pollinator attractor
Catnip tea was a popular drink in England before Chinese or Indian tea became available.  Catnip, with its strong appeal to cats, was grown around houses to keep rats away. Catnip is native to the Mediterranean, but is now grown on all continents.

An old Dutch recipe (reciept) from the 1600s used catnip (among other herbs) as a flover in egg fritters. 
“To make Egg-fritters which are good, first you take all sorts of herbs: Fennel, Violet leaves, Tansy, Sorrel, Spinach, Catnip, Beet and some Leeks and cut them fine together.”

Scientific nomenclature of the catnip plant is Nepeta cataria and it has an active ingredient known as Nepetalactone. Cats are known to have an extremely strong attraction towards this chemical, which is contained in the leaves and stems.

To Grow

Catnip is a perennial plant in the Lamiaceae family and, like all mints, can be invasive if not contained   Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a tall (about three to four feet) plant with white flowers. It smells very strong with mint undertones. Catmint (or Nepeta mussinii,) on the other hand usually tops out at 15 inches and has purple flowers. If you would like to grow catnip, but don’t want to become a favorite feline hangout, Nepeta mussinii is the catnip for you. Some believe it’s more attractive in the landscape, too.  Both are deer resistant.
catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
Catnip is a very hardy plant that will grow in poor to rich soil and in full sun or light shade. More essential oil is produced when it is grown in full sun. Catnip will self-sow where it is planted. The plants are very hardy and need little attention, except for weeding. Catnip plants can be easily grown from seed. You can plant them outdoors or indoors, as well. However, keep them out of the reach of your cats, while they are establishing themselves.

The catnip plant has a tolerance for sunny and dry areas, and is considered drought tolerant, making it a popular landscaping plant. It will grow well from zones 3 through 9.  The plant does well even in poor soil, but one that is well-drained. Dense, well-shaped forms may be obtained by pinching the plant often, while it is in its growing period.

Harvest the plant upon flowering. Late morning is considered as the best time to do it. After getting them dried, crumble them, put into cloth toys and give some to your cat to enjoy.

To Use

To harvest catnip, cut the leaves off the stems and dry in a single layer in a dim, dry, and warm location. Catnip leaves have their highest concentrations of essential oil just before flowering in mid-summer. However, since they bloom from June through September you can also harvest while they are flowering. Dry them upside down in bundles, then store in airtight containers.

Catnip tea has been used to relieve headaches and upset stomachs, to induce sleep, and to relieve colic in children. Chewing the fresh leaves can also relieve a toothache. It has been used as a home remedy for colds, nervousness, fevers, and nightmares. Catnip tea is calming and helps induce relaxation and sleep, especially when mixed with lemon balm and chamomile. Catnip tea can have a sedative effect on people and is useful in settling an upset stomach. Boil 1 cup of water and add either 3 teaspoons of fresh catnip leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves and steep and sweeten to your taste.  The scent of catnip, when used in aromatherapy, acts as a mild sedative, the opposite effect in humans as for cats. Catnip is often used in sleep or relaxation teas as well as in sleep inducing pillow mixtures.

Catnip oil has been used in perfumes, candies, and pharmaceuticals. Catnip tea is said to remove dandruff from the scalp.

Cats and other members of the cat family respond to catnip by sniffing, chewing and licking and body rubbing. This is an inherited response that is present in about two-thirds of all cats, so do not be surprised if your kitty is immune to the effects. The effects are not from ingesting the plant, but rather from an aromatherapy effect through their sense of smell. The plant must be crushed to release the chemicals responsible for this pleasurable effect. The fresher the catnip, the more essential oil the leaves contain, and the greater effect it has on cats. Sniffing catnip gives cat a feeling of euphoria that can make them playful, languid, or even hyperactive.  The effects of the nepetalactone don’t last long—after about 15 minutes your cat is generally ready for another nap.

It is the essential oil in catnip called nepetalactone that gives catnip its characteristic odor. Researchers have found this essential oil to be ten times more effective at repelling insects, especially mosquitoes, than DEET (the hazardous chemical compound found in many commercial insect repellents). Catnip also repels cockroaches.

Catnip has a very strong characteristic odor, so most often it is used in tea instead of as a food flavoring. When using catnip in cooking, choose the Lemon Catnip variety (sometimes called catmint or lemon catmint) and use only the flowers. Remove all bits of leaves as these are usually too strongly flavored to enhance cooking.


Pleasant Dream Pillow Herbal Mixture

3 Tbls. rose petals
3 Tbls. chamomile

1 Tbls. catnip
1 Tbls. spearmint
Pinch of thyme

Combine ingredients and sew into a small pillow or put in a muslin bag or seal in a oversized tea bag. Tuck this into your pillow case for a restful night’s sleep and pleasant dreams.

Relaxation Tea
A tea to help you unwind and relax, it also promotes sleep with a relaxing and calming effect.

1/3 cup lemon balm, dried
1/3 cup catnip, dried
2 tablespoons seedless rosehips, dried
1 tablespoon lemon peel, dried
1 teaspoon organic lavender, dried

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container away from heat and light.

To Use: Place one level teaspoon of tea in a tea ball or tea infuser and place in one  cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten to taste, if desired, Sip and savor.

Sleepy Lemon Tea

1/2 cup chamomile
1/2 cup lemon balm
1/2 cup catnip
2 tablespoons lemon verbena
2 tablespoons lemon peel
1/2 cup green tea (optional)
1 teaspoon lavender flowers

Blend all ingredients together and store in a airtight glass jar.

To Use: Use one teaspoon of tea to an eight ounce cup of water. Place one teaspoon tea in muslin bag or tea infuser. Fill cup with one cup boiling water and cover. Brew 2 minutes if green tea was added to recipe; or brew 3 to 5 minutes for herbal blend without green tea. Strain tea and serve sweetened with honey and lemon, if desired.

NOTES ON CATNIP TEA: Catnip tea can have a sedative effect on people and is useful in settling an upset stomach. Some research has shown that the juice from catnip leaves can stimulate menstrual flow, so pregnant women should avoid drinking catnip tea.

Relaxing Healing Herbal Bath Mix
Enjoy a relaxing bath with this fragrant mixture of dried herbs especially formulated to relax tense muscles and soothe the soul. The warm water releases the healing properties of the herbs which are then absorbed by your skin. The therapeutic effect of a relaxing bath will take effect in about 20 minutes.

6 Tbls. lavender
6 Tbls. lemon balm
2 Tbls. sea salt
2 Tbls. Chamomile
2 Tbls. Roses
2 Tbls. lemon peel
2 Tbls. calendula
2 Tbls. catnip

Mix herbs in container and store in a tightly lidded jar.  Makes roughly 1 ½ cups

To Use: Place one tablespoon of relaxing bath mix into a muslin bag, coffee filer or even a tea ball and close securely. Add the bag to warm tub water and infuse while tub is filling. Remove bath sachet
from tub and allow to drain.

Insect Repellents (for more recipes on this topic check out this post from Wellness Mama
This recipe uses the essential oil of catnip to make a repellent.  I have also used a catnip hydrosol with the other essential oils added it to make a spray-on repellent.

8 oz apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, or vodka* OR a dry oil such as jojoba
       (water will work, too, but won’t preserve the potency of the oils as long)
15 drops lemongrass essential oil
15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
15 drops lemon essential oil
15 drops catnip essential oils 

Blend all ingredients together and place in a dark colored glass bottle.  Shake well before applying.  

To Use: You can use a spray bottle or if using oil for the base, apply to skin like lotion.

Catnip Mosquito Repellent

2 cups catnip, washed
2 cups almond oil

Bruise catnip and pack into a clean jar. Cover with oil, put a lid on the jar and set in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Shake jar lightly every day, and push herbs under the oil to avoid mold. Strain into a clean jar, seal and refrigerate for up to 8 months. (If your mosquitoes are especially ferocious, you can add other strong-smelling herbs, such as rosemary, pennyroyal, basil.) It's a good idea to try your concoction on a small spot of skin before you smear it all over yourself, to test for allergies.

To Use: Rub on exposed skin.

Catnip Cat Toys

If you have some sewing skill, I suggest cutting two squares of felt about 2 inches or so on each side.  Sew them on three sides, then stuffed it with catnip and sew it shut.  This little pillow will be your cats favorite toy if they are among those who enjoy catnip. 

If, like me, you cannot sew then you can do one of two things.  Buy an already made cat toy, slip open a seam and fill the toy with catnip, or place the toys in a zip seal bag filled with catnip and allow them to “marinade” for a day or two.

Since it is all about the smell, even a toy that has just hung out with catnip will carry the scent for a while making it a fun play toy.  I place 4 or 5 toys in a bag at a time and then take them out one at a time to let the cats enjoy them.

Tincture of Catnip

A tincture of catnip can be used as a sleep enhancing mixture before bedtime. I have given more detailed instructions for making a tincture elsewhere, but if you treat catnip like any other mint you would be tincturing, I think you will be successful.  Here is a quick way to craft the tincture. I fill quart canning jar 3/4 full with crushed dried catnip then fill jar with 100 proof alcohol, like Vodka or Everclear.  Take the tincture by the teaspoon added to water, tea or other liquid before bed. (See warning above under tea.)  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor Day Menu - Weekend Recipe

Yes I will admit I stole this idea from Alton Brown.  He posted a menu for Labor Day on Facebook and I decided I could do something similar, directing you to a few of my recipes.


Salsa and Chips. A tried and true item made unique with a few extra herbs. Here is a recipe I share that can be made with my salsa mix or with a plain jar bought variety.

Wild & Crazy Salsa

1 jar sliced green olives
2 to 3 tomatoes, diced
1 peeled avocado
1 small white onion, diced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 package Backyard Patch Salsa Mix or Hot Salsa Mix

Combine all ingredients.  Serve with baked chips or use as a topping on fish or chicken.

Grilled Pork Chop Sandwich.  Trade in the traditional burger for another sandwich option. Back in 2012 I shared a recipe for lemon tarragon grilled pork chops that makes such a perfect pork chop sandwich.  Served with coleslaw on the side or on the sandwich and you have a great dish for your labor day feast.

Caraway Coleslaw: I have several slaw recipes to recommend, including the Ranch Dressing Coleslaw, but I think the best one is the one I shared for a picnic at Ravinia the Caraway Coleslaw.  A very traditional flavor you will love it.


Melon Sweet Salad.  A blend of fresh mint and various white and orange melon served with our without ice cream.

Sweet Melon Salad
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, more or less to taste
2 tablespoons honey
4 cups cubed, seeded cantaloupe 
2 1/2 cups honeydew or a white melon like canary melon or Korean Star
1/3 cup chopped or chiffonade mint leaves, more or less to taste

Stir together the lemon juice, and honey in a small bowl. Adjust the sweetness to taste by adding either more lemon juice or honey. In a medium-size bowl, toss the melons gently with the mint and stir in the dressing. Serve either chilled or at room temperature.  this makes a wonderful topping for ice cream.


Sweet Tea Apple Sipper I shared a similar herb cocktail recipe on Facebook this past week, but this turned out to be my favorite while experimenting with herb cocktails. It is a mixture of Irish Breakfast tea, thyme, apple juice and rye whiskey.  It is our evening cocktail of choice these past few weeks. Oh and be careful this drink will sneak up on you.

Sweet Tea Apple Sipper

Irish Breakfast tea
Apple juice
Apple, sliced thin

For a different spin on an iced tea cocktail, brew a fresh batch of rejuvenating Irish Breakfast tea with added sprigs of thyme, then chill and add equal parts clear apple juice. Pour into balloon glasses and spike each with a shot of your favorite whiskey for an indulgent summer hit! Before you serve, garnish with apple wheels and sprigs of thyme.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Preserving Herbs - A collection of posts

It is that time of year when i need to discuss preserving herbs.  I do this about this time of year every year.  The herbs are getting full and bushy and now is the time to take some and preserve them for the winter.

There are many ways to preserve the fresh flavor of herbs.  We just harvested the small herb patch we have in our community garden this week (and wrote about it if you want a quick overview.)

General Posts on Preservation

Drying Herbs
I have talked about various methods for drying herbs for years.  here on the best on the subject:

     Air Drying Herbs

     General Drying Methods

     How to Dry Your Harvest  

     Drying Herbs in the Microwave

Freezing Herbs

    Herbal Seasoning Ice Cubes

    Freezing Herbs

Preserving in Vinegar or Wine

     Making Herbed Wine

     How to make herb vinegar

     Making tarragon vinegar

     Making Pesto

     Using herbal vinegar

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Flavored Mustards - Weekend Recipe

The kids went back to school this week here in northern Illinois.  I always thought of the end of summer as Labor Day.  We always celebrated my birthday over Labor Day weekend.  It was a last hurrah before school started, a wonderful outdoor picnic and a family gathering.  My grandfather and I both celebrated in September and later my cousin ended up with the same birthday as me so we had much to celebrate on that day and we always did so with a picnic.

Today in honor of the early start to the school year which is cutting picnic season short, I thought I would share a couple of flavored mustard recipes.  These are each made with an already prepared mustard, but if you want to make your own mustard from scratch, check out this previous herb of the month post.

Dill mustard

1/2 cup yellow mustard 
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill pickles 
1/4 cup freshly chopped white onions 
1 Tbls. chopped fresh dill weed

Combine all the ingredients and place in a lidded glass jar.  Allow to meld in refrigerator for an hour before serving.  Will keep up to three months in the refrigerator

Apple Fennel Mustard

1/2 cup Dijon mustard 
1 grated peeled apple
1 minced shallot
2 Tbls brown sugar 
2 tsp crushed fennel seeds

Combine all the ingredients and place in a lidded glass jar.  Allow to meld in refrigerator for an hour before serving.  Will keep up to three months in the refrigerator

Peach Thyme Mustard

1/2 cup peach preserves
1 Tbls whole grain mustard
1 Tbls Dijon mustard 
1 tsp lemon juice 
1/2 tsp fresh thyme 
pinch salt

Combine all the ingredients and place in a lidded glass jar.  Allow to meld in refrigerator for an hour before serving.  Will keep up to three months in the refrigerator

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bee Balm (New Recipes) - Herb of the Week

Although I did an herb of the week on Bee Balm back in 2012, I find that this year, It has been so very attractive I cannot resist giving more information about this attractive perennial.

So Herb of the Week is Bee Balm  genus Monarda 

Bee Balm is a true Native American herb named Monarda by the Spanish explorer who discovered it in the new world in 1571. Its meaning in the Language of Flowers is Compassion. sympathy, consolation.

Known as Oswego Tea to some, this is the plant that Native Americans used to treat colds and to relax. This tea was used by the rebellious Boston patriots during the tea boycott. It is also known as Bergamot. This is a reference to its citrus-like scent which resembles the small, bitter Italian bergamot citrus orange called Orange Bergamot.  When you buy essential oil of Bergamot you are purchasing the oil of bergamot orange. This is the flavor used to give Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor. This fragrance is very similar to the Bee Balm, but comes from a different plant.

To Grow

Bee Balm is naturalized throughout the United States. It is a hardy perennial in the mint family and grows to two to three feet tall. Its leaves grow in pairs that are oval and pointed on a four sided stem. Flowers appear in zone 5 in late June through August- September. lts tubular flowers bloom from a large round head. Both leaves and flowers have a strong citrus mint scent.
A rich purple Bee balm from the Rotary Garden in Janesville, WI

Bee Balm flowers come in colors from red to pink to purple to while. It’s roots are dense and shallow. It can easily be propagated from runners. Bee Balm which is in the mint family (you know by the square stem) can be invasive, but growth is usually checked by our cold winters.  This winter was snowy so I think the extra moisture resulted in the vivid colors and proliferation of flowers we see this year.

Bright Pink Bee Balm at the Morton Arboretum
Bee Blam flowers come in colors from red to pink to purple to white. The roots are dense and shallow. It can easily be propagated from runners. Bees and hummingbirds love the colorful tubular flowers.
The plant tolerates shade, but prefers full sun. Dry soil stunts plant growth since the roots are so near the surface. You want to plant Bee Balm somewhere where it is not disturbed by foot traffic or cultivation as the shallow roots can be damaged.  It responds well to being mulched especially in warmer climates.  Weeding must only be done by hand. Bee Balm often gets powdery mildew towards late August. The best treatment is to cut the stems to the ground and discard the diseased foliage. Do not put these diseased clippings in your compost pile.

To Use

Bee Balm flower petals are a good addition to tea, desserts and potpourri. Petals can be harvested often by picking only the flower petals and leaving the round heads attached. Picking just the petals in this way will encourage re-blooming for weeks. Dry the petals on a tray for about a week. When thoroughly dry, store them in an airtight jar until needed.

Bee Balm flower petals are edible flowers and add a citrus flavor to any dish including salad, jelly, bread, tea and honey. The fresh petals are delicious in lemonade or iced tea. Bee Balm petals are attractive and delicious with all fruits. Dried petals retain their flavor and can be used throughout the year.

Wild bee balm of light purple

Dragonfly Cheese
1  8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (4 tablespoons) margarine or butter, softened
1 Tablespoons fresh monarda petals, chopped
1 Tablespoon dried dill

Mix cheese and butter together with edible flowers and dill. Mix well. Add one tablespoon of mayonnaise if you would like the mix more spreadable. Chill overnight and serve with cocktail rye, crackers or vegetable sticks.

Bumble Bee Punch
1 quart of brewed Backyard Patch Earl Grey Tea with Lavender or Lemon Bergamot Tea
1/2 cup sugar
1 quart lemonade

Sweeten tea with sugar and stir until dissolved. Add lemonade to sweetened tea and mix in a large punch bowl. Add ice ring made with juice or tea and decorated with mint and edible flowers. Float lemon slices in punch bowl. Sprinkle with fresh monarda petals.

Herbal Headache Soother Tea
equal parts: 
     Bee balm  (leaves and flowers)

Blend ingredients together and store in a jar with tight fitting lid.  Use 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of hot water (more if you make it iced).  Allow to steep 7 to 10 minutes before drinking.

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