Archive for I know some things about Herbs.

You might want to make your own rose water.

If you could capture the magnificent essence of roses and put it in a bottle, would you?

I would.  Even if the gardens weren’t yet all in, even if you couldn’t get in or out of the front door, for the pile of dirty laundry waiting to be walked to the washer.  The roses are ready and are fleeting.

With my trusty enamel pot in hand, I visited the rose bush out back and carefully plucked her petals.  She was ready to let them go; she’s been sprinkling the earth below with a gentle shower of those petals for a few days now.

Find yourself a helper if you can; tasks like these are best shared.

Go ahead.  Bury your face in there so you can really smell them.  Drink it in.

Nestle an upturned glass into the center of the pot.  Fill with cold water to just above the level of the petals.  Revel in how lovely it is to try plunging them under, how lovely it is to pull your hands out of the water, covered in rose petals.

Place a dish for collecting the rose water on top of the upturned glass.  Don’t kid yourself – it need not be big.  This custard dish fit the task perfectly.

Place the lid on, upside down.  Be sure that the center of the upturned lid is centered above the collecting dish, but not touching.  When the water is boiling, fill the lid with ice cubes.  This causes the rose-infused water vapor to condense on the lid, follow the curve downward, and run right into the collecting dish.  Be careful not to boil too long or the delicate essence will become over-cooked.  I would recommend not doing this while waiting for the school bus to arrive.  You should really give it your full attention.  (take note, Self.)

This is the rose water I collected.  It’s scant and precious, indeed.

I poured it into the jar immediately, while still hot.  Essential oils are volatile and will drift away just as easily from your rose water as they did from the petals you collected.

So you’ve made some rose water.  Hooray.  Now what?

Bake with it.

Ice cream, anyone?

Beauty cream.

Or put it on a cool, dark shelf somewhere safe and consider yourself rich.

You get the idea.

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Got chickens? Get garlic!

I’d like to pass on to you the very best advice I ever received regarding chickens.  Garlic.  Fresh garlic chopped finely and steeped in apple cider vinegar, when added to the chickens’ drinking water, can cure many a poultry woe.  It’s a real and accessible answer to the panic that sets in when a chicken is down.  And boy, do I know that panic well, having traversed a significant incline of the Chicken Learning Curve not that long ago.  Here’s how it played out.

Got chickens.  Yay!  Got eggs.  Yay!  All is well. Then a hen tips over dead in the night.  Horror!  Then another hen is observed wheezing.  What do you do with a sick chicken??!?  First, check the chicken bible.  Helpful, but not definitive.  Chicken still wheezing.  Then dead.  Horror!  What to do? Hurry! Is there a vet around that treats chickens?  There very well may be, but simple math answers the question pretty quickly.  Chickens, unless they are a very special family pet, are really only worth a few bucks.  Vet bills?  Significantly more than a few bucks.  It would take many, many, many eggs to see the return on that investment.  Vet = not an option.  Online forums!  Some research there led me to this book – The Chicken Health Handbook.  Perfect!  So I order it, skim it frantically, and then come to this realization:  what am I supposed to do with this information?  Once I determine the problem/disease is x, then what?  Do I track down antibiotics?  Where?  (back to the vet dead-end)  Then I was presented with the golden nugget of advice that I’m now giving to you.  Garlic.  It doesn’t matter what the specific illness is.  If a chicken is down (ailing, that is, not dead) garlic can come to the rescue by supporting the immune system so the quite capable chicken body can go about healing itself.  Yes.  That’s more like it.

Doris is a big fan. Two chicken fingers up for garlic! She had a run-in just yesterday with an errant neighbor dog.  I’d say she won. While she did sustain a pretty bad bite on her hindquarters, she’s on the mend now and up and about gossiping with her girls in the coop.  The dog, on the other hand, spent all of the afternoon tied to a tree in our yard, enduring repeated “Bad dog!” and “Quiet!” admonitions from us all (the most adamant and morale-busting surely came from that 2-yr-old mouth) while we tried to connect with his owners.  Doris, however, spent the afternoon convalescing in a spa-like setting.  I had made up a quick poultice of herbs, carefully washed and dressed the wound, and let her rest on my lap while the herbs went to work.  This, I might add, was after a nice relaxing rest on Daddio’s lap.  After rinsing, a covering of Blu-Kote was applied.  It’s an antiseptic cobalt-blue spray that both treats the wound and covers up the irresistible redness that would provoke the other birds to pecking the wound.  After all of this fussing, she was in good enough shape to return to her cronies in the coop.  The last step in treating her was to add a couple of tablespoons of the cider vinegar and garlic bits that had been steeping for the past half hour to the coop’s water fount.

I’ve used the garlic to treat all manner of illness and injury to both of my flocks – avian and ruminant.  Garlic is reputed to be a champion antibiotic, antifungal, vermifuge (anti-worm/parasite) and all-around immune support herb.  The most dramatic success I’ve had was a recent case of pecking in a couple of our pastured broiler chickens.  There were a few management issues early on, which led to a bad case of pecking. (canabalism)  The chickens were stressed – overcrowded, too hot or cold, or just plain bored and started pecking at a few of the weaker birds.  They peck relentlessly, obsessively, to the victim’s death if not caught in time.  After losing a few birds this way, I intercepted two who had been pecked in the cheek.  One of them had already started swelling up – the whole side of his face was distorted and puffed out.  I put them into a separate pen, added copious amounts of garlic to the water, sprayed the wounds with Blu-Kote, and hoped for the best.  They’ve now completely recovered and are quite happily employed as tractor-operators in the garden.

Some points of clarification:

+  I don’t at all mean to diminish the usefulness of any of the above-referenced books.  It is important to know how to treat various ailments and these books are rich with that information.  Especially helpful is the distinction of contagious afflictions.  There’s a big difference between losing a single bird or two versus a whole flock; that’s an important consideration to make when formulating a treatment plan.  I like the option of garlic as an alternative, in mild cases, or as additional support in more serious cases.

+  I’ve read somewhere that garlic and onions may lend their flavor to eggs if fed to the hens.  I’ve not noticed this myself, nor have any of our egg customers, to my knowledge. It seems a small price to pay, though I don’t believe that the hens are even laying any eggs while sick. Might be a moot point.

+  Vinegar is not recommended for use with galvanized or metal water founts.  Ours is heavy-duty plastic, which I upgraded to for this very reason.  I found it here, and like how it still works with the heated base in the winter.

+  It might be noted that garlic is useful at each stage of chicken development – from newly-hatched to roast chicken.  I’m never without it.

To recap:

Got chickens?  Get garlic.  Chop it finely, steep it in apple cider vinegar.  Do it now.  Tuck it into a cool, dry, dark cupboard until you need it.  It’ll keep.  When needed, add a few tablespoons to the drinking water.  Pat yourself on the back for being so proactive.  I wouldn’t worry too much about the qty – I doubt they would/could get too much garlic.  Some of my hens will even eat the chopped garlic straight up, which makes me so pleased.

You should also have a can of Blu-Kote or equivalent on hand.  Careful when you spray it – it stains!  We use this more than we’d like but are always glad it’s there.

This concludes the Public Service Announcement.  Carry on.

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We have to talk about the Market.

I think it’s been four weeks now that I’ve been setting up my little tables at the Poynette Farmer’s Market. Each week I find myself a little more put-together.  That first week, I had only 1 table and a meager selection of unusual, not-incredibly-robust seedlings.  My expectations were pretty low – it’s a small, casual market in a small, casual town, which is precisely why it is such a good market for me to start with, to get my feet wet.  A small, casual market, however, is not exactly the best place to expect to sell many obscure medicinal herbs or lesser-known heirloom varieties.  It sure as hell is not the place one would expect to be able to sell bunches of stinging nettles – well known in these parts as a bane to gardeners and hikers alike.  But I did.

Oh, I’ve spoken before of my love for nettles and the goldmine of nutrients they impart.  This wasn’t some random grasping at straws, trying-to-fill-up-a-table move; it’s more of a personal mission.  Still, my personal enthusiasm aside, the abrasive nature of Sister Nettle is quite a hurdle to overcome when trying to distill her finer qualities into a bite-size onslaught of (enthusiastic!) information in the seconds it takes for a market-goer to pass by my table.  That I would show up at market trying to sell this noxious weed was utterly ridiculous, at least in these parts, and I declared it so to my fellow market sellers as I was setting up, poking fun at my own naivete.  But I have free samples! I said.  Of delicious soup!  And that is how I lured them in.  A good friend recently shared a wonderful nettle soup recipe with me, so with her blessings, I made up a batch, printed up a bazillion copies of the recipe, and one by one, began winning over the doubtful but adventurous marketers.  Of course there were those that wouldn’t come within 5 feet of my table upon seeing the nettles, or nearly took off running when I offered the soup samples.  “I have a very sensitive stomach,” I was told by one.  And when I handled the bunches of washed, mostly sting-free nettles with carefree ease, there were eyeballs that nearly popped out of their sockets.

What a rush, this market business!  I was quite unprepared for how much I love doing it.  It’s far surpassed my meager expectations, most definitely so, but more importantly, it’s become something I look forward to doing every single week.  Meeting the people in my community, selling something I raised from seed, cultivating a reputation as a quirky, what-will-she-pull-out-of-her-hat-next kind of girl…all of it is so, so satisfying. Last week I declared that my booth would be different every single week.  It’s an evolving process, and I’m finding it the ability to tweak it from week to week so liberating.  What a welcome, refreshing change from my last experiences with setting up a booth (a lifetime ago) on the craft fair circuit, where it was a one-shot, wish I had time to do x deal.

And I sold nettles.  It’s a lesson – free samples and a heap o’ enthusiasm go a long, long way.  I sort-of feel like I can do anything now.

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Prenatal Home Visit, ungulate edition

Dear Gloria, Garnet, Sylvia, and Irene –

I hope this letter finds you well in the last days (weeks?) of your respective pregnancies.  I am so pleased to see your ever-expanding bellies and am hopeful that your offspring will be prolific and healthy.  Surely you understand the importance of good prenatal care as our mutual responsibility.  This, I’m afraid, is why I’m writing.  I left our last prenatal home visit a bit concerned about your lackadaisical commitment to nutrition.  Mostly, I’m referring to the tea.

You may not realize that brewing an herbal tea of mineral-rich, uterine tonic herbs for a flock of pregnant ewes is rather unorthodox.  Being first-time mothers, with a first-time midwife, it’s no wonder that you would take this for granted, given no other context for comparison.  But it is.  Comically unorthodox.  I know of no other sheep in the entire world who are privilege to human-grade, organic herbs long-infused in a tea, except maybe for Juliette’s flock.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that her mention of Red Raspberry leaves as a good uterine tonic gave me the idea.  That and the jars of extra Nourishing Tea I had left over from my own pregnancy, which I certainly won’t need for myself.  You need to understand that no self-respecting farmer that I’ve ever heard of would even consider, let alone admit in public, the act of brewing pregnancy tea for sheep.  But you all knew from the start, from the very moment you were loaded into the back of a minivan, for cripes sake,  that I was no self-respecting traditional farmer, right?

But back to the tea, and my concerns.  Let’s cut to the chase:  I’m a little ticked off that, after carefully brewing this (privileged, expensive, time-consuming) tea for you all and adding it to your water, you flippantly disregarded my hard work and carelessly crapped in the water pail.  Of tea.  How are you to prepare yourself for giving birth if you thumb your nose at and otherwise soil the nutrient-rich supplement I’ve so lovingly made for you?  There’s alfalfa in that tea, you know.  You all LOVE alfalfa.  Did you even try it before you crapped in it?  If I sound a little less professional than a midwife should, it’s because I’m pissed.  That was downright rude, not to mention wasteful.  A shameful waste of human-grade, organic medicinal herbs.

While I’m at it and venting my frustrations, I’d like to recall your attention to last week’s incident with the feed.  I’m referring specifically to the incident where I brought home a pallet full of 3rd Trimester, Prepare for Lambing special feed mix from our local mill.  Why was it, exactly, that you refused to eat it?  I understand that you’re pregnant, with all kinds of strange food impulses and aversions.  I get that, having been pregnant myself not so long ago.  Surely your bodies intuitively know what you need more than I, right?  Without even the slightest complaint, I loaded back up the 350 pounds of refused feed, hauled it back to the mill, apologetically returned it, and returned with the feed that you were accustomed to, the feed which you’d eat non-stop, to your bloated death, if I let you.  The feed which has a curiously higher content of molasses. Pregnant intuition, my ass – you were refusing the newer feed because it had less sugar!   I’m on to you ewes – you’re a bunch of molasses junkies.  And I’m concerned about the state of your prenatal health.  As your midwife, it’s my job to look out for your health as well as that of your unborn lambs.  I urge you to take more responsibility for your prenatal care.

You can start by guzzling the fresh batch of Nourishing Tea I’m preparing for your water pail.  Please refrain from soiling it.


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Chickens We’ve Loved: Daffodilla

We lost a good chicken recently.

One chick in last year’s Spring batch clearly stood out from among the rest.  It was mottled black and pale yellow, with a prominent yellow splotch on the top of its head, differentiating it from the rest of the 80-odd chicks brooding in our spare bathtub.  This chick was immediately called out as special by one Isadora and given the name Daffodilla.  Keep in mind that, at the time, we had no idea whether Daffodilla should indeed bear the -a at the end of her name, or if he should instead be Daffodillo, a name which borders on absurd, maybe even vulgar.  This made absolutely no difference whatsoever to Isadora.  Daffodilla was of course a girl – why else would she have hand-picked her and given her the most beautiful name in the world?

But she was right, that girl.  Daffodilla continued to grow into her uniqueness, and we later discovered her to be the ‘free, rare chick’ that McMurray Hatchery threw in with our order.  Maybe she was a Barred Rock, or a Cuckoo Maran – whatever the case, she had lovely black and white barred feathers and a sweet disposition, no doubt from all of her special grooming and handling early on. She also laid the most beautiful chocolate brown colored eggs to ever grace the coop.

She had pluck.  Early on, she was involved in an accident with the pasture pen that left her with a bandaged head and neck.  She received the necessary first aid and pulled through it all as a stronger, more resilient bird, albeit with a few battle scars.  The other hens revered her as bad-ass and demurred to her with great respect.  And for a while, it seemed as if that pluck might be enough to pull her through her last and greatest scrape.  I can only piece together a good guess of what happened, and it boggles my own mind.

I found her in one of the nest boxes, listless and standing with closed eyes.  A Black Giant hen, in a nearby nest box, seemed to be down as well, and had a raspy breath that hinted at a cold going through the flock.  Yeah – chickens get colds too, I’ve learned.  I tried hand-feeding the two some finely chopped, vinegar-steeped garlic – a remedy which has helped many others pull through.  I even offered some of the sheep’s grain – a molasses-soaked blend of cracked grains far more decadent than the usual chicken rations.  I left them to eat at will or rest, knowing there was not much more I could do for them.  And the next day I was overjoyed when I saw that Daffodilla was up and about the coop, but as I drew closer, I began to see that she was fighting much more than a cold.  She was missing most of the feathers on her back and had deep lacerations in four or five different spots.  The best I can guess is that something from above (hawk, owl) tried grabbing her but found her too heavy to cart off to their nest.  Maybe they never quite got her off the ground, maybe they dropped her after alighting.  Whatever the case, she had made it back into the coop, but some time ago.  The wounds were not at all fresh.

Isadora's art therapy

I brought her into the house, tenderly washed her off and did the only thing I could think of – applied a poultice of healing herbs. (Which is what all normal farmers do, right? ) I covered her up, tucked her into the bottom half of a cat carrier, and placed her in our little laundry area off the kitchen.  She stayed there over 24 hours, resting, taking small amounts of molasses and garlic water through a syringe, seemingly unfazed by the raucous din of our busy kitchen.  The adjacent laundry room shelf was strung with colorful, hand-drawn pictures made earnestly by Isadora to speed her healing process and give her something pretty to look at.  She finally succumbed in the early evening of the following night.  It was heart-wrenching for Isadora, but probably more of a relief for me, glad to have her out of such pain.  We sat together at our kitchen table crying, snuggling, and talking fondly of Daffodilla and her remarkable life.  We vowed never to forget her.

I certainly won’t.  One gift she left for me was an intensely renewed interest in herbs – for farm and family.  I’ve been on fire ever since – reading, taking notes, ordering and starting seeds for an expanded selection of home-grown herbs.  It is with great fondness and gratitude that we all remember our dear Daffodilla.

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Learning to soothe ourselves

- dried organic elderberries -

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend waiting till the snot runs to make yourself a batch of Echinacea Elderberry Syrup, I have to believe the urgent, very immediate necessity of said syrup combines with the healing essences of the herbs to make a more potent, thereby effective herbal concoction.  Well, that’s my hope at least.

Last week was one of those weeks we crawled out of rather scraped-up and bruised.  Not literally, thank goodness, but emotionally and otherwise.  One of the culprits for the weary-making –  a wallop of a cold that hit a few of us over the head with a mallet.  It was the classic scenario in which I would normally turn to my refrigerated stash of herbal support syrups.  Given that most cold remedies have been pulled off the market for wee snotty ones due to gross misuse, ineffectiveness, and fatalities, there really aren’t many alternatives to pulling your own ‘alternative’ off the shelf.  That is, if you’ve had the presence of mind to get in on the shelf before the storm hits.

We didn’t, as you can clearly see, nor was my last batch back-filled.  Fortunately, the process of making an herbal syrup is, like the remedy itself, gentle enough to undertake even amidst a constant stream of mucous flooding your workspace.  Ahem.  Pardon the visual there.  Since we were lucky enough to have two clean saucepans at the ready, we decided to  made two different syrups.  We use Echinacea Elderberry Syrup for general immune support and for fevers, when we think of it.  We also put together a Cough Syrup containing a blend of herbs I’ve been tweaking for several cold seasons now.  The addition of honey makes it all palatable and the minuscule addition of brandy helps it gain some shelf-life. Almost all of this can be accomplished with a copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, which looks to me to be the updated version of her Family Herbal that I have on my own shelves.   Good quality, reliable herbs can be found many places, including Mountain Rose Herbs.  May this scourge pass you by.

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Up to my elbows in seeds

I joined the Seed Savers Exchange this year, both the Vegetable and the Flower and Herb Memberships.  And wowee – am I glad that I did.   If little things like heirloom seeds and vast selection and varieties that have been passed down for generations are important to you and your garden, head over there and get crackin’ on your own membership.  All of the seeds are offered up by normal people like you and me who save their own seeds.  You select what you want, throw a few bucks in an envelope and mail the person directly.  And then you sit back and wait for the goodness to flood your mailbox.

I got so much more than I bargained for – instructions carefully written and printed out, words of encouragement.  When was the last time I received a whole handwritten page in the mail?!?  A silly thing to get excited about, but the generosity poured forth in written form was touching.  And much appreciated – I’ve chosen a few especially-tricky seeds.  But the investment up front is minimal, so if all else fails, I’ve got some good experience under my belt for plunging forward next year.

I ordered some medicinal herbs, some flowers, (like dinner-plate-size hibiscus!) and the foundation for a dyer’s garden:  french (spry) marigold, madder, woad, weld.  It would be handy to be able to dye my own wool with plants from my own garden.  (This just in:  the sheep fence has arrived and is awaiting setup!)

I’ve resurrected a flowerbed led astray by neglect and claimed dominion over it.  I thought that using the wood embroidery hoops will help focus my weeding attempts and indicate where my seedlings should be sprouting up.  Seemed a great idea, until the chickens invaded the bed and scratched up the newly-sown areas, scattering loads of carefully-placed seeds.  Here’s a hot tip for you chicken owners out there:  It’s NOT smart to set about cultivating a flower bed, pull out worms and caterpillars and big bugs, call over the chickens who free-range your yard, feed them the goodies, (with much satisfaction for all) and then expect them NOT to invade the said bed, hunting for more of the same on their own.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  I’m currently exploring Chicken Deterrent Devices for my flower beds – the rinky-dink 18″ tall fence is not cutting it.  Pinwheels, maybe?  Any other thoughts?

In case you missed the mention above, the sheep fence is here and ready to be put into action.  Just saying.

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Do you know the Burdock Boy?

Teething is hard, hard work.  It seems to be a perpetual cycle of good days full of non-stop smiles, interspersed with rough days of sore gums, drooling, and extreme tenderness.  It was on one of these tender days when we fell into a soothing solution entirely out of necessity.

We had been out on our weekly pilgrimage of errand-running, a marathon event that attempts to choreograph all of our in-town errands into a single morning or afternoon or entire day, depending on the size of the To Get list.  The grocery-buying part of that list usually falls towards the end of the trip, making it a sometimes dicey proposition for two children who’ve missed their naps.  Enter teething into the mix and it’s the making of a disaster.  But it’s a 35 minute drive from home to the food coop, in a gas-guzzling minivan, no less, so we can’t hardly turn around and go home empty-handed.  And trying to fulfill the shopping list at the local grocery store would only gain us blank, puzzled looks and head shakes of the ‘no, I don’t think we carry that’ variety.  Goat’s milk, miso, celeriac, tamari, seaweed, collards, burdock…not exactly the normal grocery fare.

So there we were, about to enter a firestorm of screaming and crying and maybe going without food that week.  The Boy arched his back, trying to fight the strapping-into-the-shopping-cart ritual, The Girl pleaded her case for using a child-size cart that she could push, (no way!) and we hadn’t even made it into the store yet.  I flipped into my Momma Survival mode, condensing the list to must-haves, the shortest possible route, and braced myself.  Maybe I can buy some time? Quick – what can he chew on to soothe those gums?  Scanning, scanning, scanning.  Burdock!

I handed The Boy a piece of burdock root out of sheer desperation, and he took to it like a fish out of water.  He gummed it, shredded the end with his existing teeth, and took the whole shopping trip to do it.  It happened to be the same week that horseradish root was available, and I got quite a few puzzled looks and questions from other shoppers mistaking the root he was chewing for horseradish or ginger.  Of course not, I replied, that would be mean.  (haven’t you ever seen a boy gum a burdock root before?)

This has gone on for some time now; it’s almost a grocery shopping ritual.  He’s been received with much fanfare and I suspect he may be getting a reputation as ‘that cool baby who loves burdock.’  It is, after all, a natural foods coop, where a baby chewing on something so earthy and pure would obviously be lauded with much approval and admiration.

If you’ve never yourself chewed on a stick of burdock root, you’ll not know of the unique metallic taste it has.  I like chopping it up into tiny pieces and sauteing it with the garlic, onions, celery (celeriac), and carrots that I’m throwing into a soup or baked dish.  I know that some eat it sauteed on its own (like in Japanese cuisine), but my palate is not a fan of the flavor, so I must sneak it in quietly, where it can blend with other flavors.  The fact that Errol seems to really like the flavor makes us shake our heads in wonderment.  Rock on, little guy!  I try to cook with it as much as I can because it’s just loaded with great nutrients and mildly medicinal properties.

The burdock root offered in our food coop is grown locally by a large CSA farm.  If you think it’s silly to buy a root that grows in abundance in your back yard, like I did at first, I recommend you step outside and try harvesting your own, without using a backhoe.  Report back to us and tell us how it went.  The root Errol is chewing in the above photos cost me $1.50 or less; it’s our version of ‘fast food,’ I guess, buying it ready-picked.

To really do this story justice, however, I’d need to have brought a camera with me to the Coop, to give you an honest-to-goodness visual of The Boy in the cart chewing on burdock, making other shoppers stop in their tracks.  Their approval stops just short of applause.  I suck it all up like a burst of sunshine, feeling like an awfully good mother on that particular day, quite proud of my boy who digs the burdock.  Little do they know it could have just as easily been a carrot, had it been shelved closer to the entrance of the store.

But how boring that story would be?

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