Sunday, 31 January 2010

UK Herbarium Blog Party: Emerging from winter with herbs

The next UK Herbarium Blog Party is on 20th February and is being hosted here on Apotheblogary. The topic for this month is 'Emerging from winter with herbs', herbal recipes to help us shake off the winter blues and put the 'spring' in our step!

I love the winter months for the hibernation and snuggling away by the fire. But now its that time of year when I start longing for spring, and even though I'm encouraged by having seen some snow drops pushing up last week, the warmer seasons still feel a long way off.

We often hear about herbal recipes to help you get through the winter - elderberry, rosehip, sage and more - but not so much about herbal pick-me-ups to help us emerge from winter. At the moment I'm drinking Nettle, St. John's Wort and Rosemary tea as my 'elevensies' herbal cuppa (approx 1 teaspoon each of Nettle & St. John's Wort, and 1/2 teaspoon Rosemary). Perhaps you'd like to join me across cyberspace for a cup while you're writing (or reading) about your favourite herbs and herbal recipes for shaking off the winter cold and grey days?
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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Apotheblogary gets a fresh coat of paint!

It's getting to that time of year where I really start longing for spring, and beyond it to warm, summer days. Ah... So to help get through the grey days I've brightened up Apotheblogary with a new fresh look using lots of the photos of the herbal potions and treats I've made over the years. Yes even a picture of me snuck in there. ;-)

It was fun to look back through the photos and reminded me that Apotheblogary is now in its fourth year - wow! One moment you have a shiny new blog and the next moment its full of wonderful stories and discoveries that you got to share with both old and new friends. Debs at Herbaholic's Herbarium has just opened a UK Herbarium website and is encouraging herb lovers in the UK to get blogging, which I very much support.

I hope you enjoy the new design here on Apotheblogary and I look forward to more herbal journeys in the year ahead!
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Saturday, 16 January 2010

7 interesting things to know about bitter herbs

This post is part of the UK Herbarium Blog Party on My Favourite Bitter herb.

I first met bitter herbs through Swedish Bitters, which were recommended by a friend a few years back. I made copious amounts of the stuff at home (my first tincture making experience as well!), blogged about it, and even made a Swedish Bitters cream!

Since then I've given it less attention, but the usefulness of bitter herbs has stayed with me. Most typically I take a little Swedish Bitters in water if I've eaten a bit more than I should or my stomach just feels out of sorts. The taste still has me making weird faces, but it certainly is good stuff and works for me.

Here are seven useful bits and pieces I've collected about bitter herbs along the way:
  1. We have five kinds of taste buds: salty, savoury, sweet, sour and bitter. Now take a wild guess at which one we tend to avoid in our modern diet. Yes, bitters. So what are we missing out on by doing so?
  2. Bitter herbs, or the "bitter principle" in herbs, work by stimulating the "bitter taste buds in the mouth that reflexly initiate secretion of a special hormone into the blood stream increasing production of stomach and pancreatic juices and impelling the liver to release bile into the duodenum. Bitters increase acid production and are given about half an hour before meals". This is the description from Bartum's Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine. To me and you, they get the digestive system going. So they may taste, well, bitter... but there's no way round it I'm afraid as "to sweeten them is to nullify their effect".
  3. Bitter tonics should not be taken continuously, but only from time-to-time as needed.
  4. Apparently bitterness is rated relative to quinine (found in tonic water) although I couldn't find Bitterness Index ratings for herbs. At an extreme of bitterness is a substance called denatonium which is added to toxic substances to deter ingestion (I'm sure it works!)
  5. Chatting with Jo Batacanin at Neal's Yard last week, it seems that Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), Centaury (Centaurium Erythraea) and Gentian (Gentiana Lutea) are the most commonly used bitter herbs, and then in tincture form (which I guess gets it over with relatively quickly at least!). At the milder end are herbs such as chamomile and yarrow, which are palatable in a herb tea.
  6. In my experience, there seems to be more use of bitter (and other) herbs in Europe than in the UK, one form being in alcoholic drinks or "digestifs" in French, which says it all really. Here in the UK the best known bitter drink is angostura, which apparently includes gentian, and a good glug or two of this in a gin and tonic is about reaching my preferred bitter level. :-) Other well known bitter drinks include Jagermeister, Peychaud's and Campari. Ok, so I'm crossing the line between remedies and something rather nice on the rocks... but hey. ;-)
  7. And on that theme, I've been told that a little Swedish Bitters can help one sober up after a drink too many (not that I'd know of course)
I'm getting that "time to try out a new herby recipe" feeling - so I've earmarked a few recipes that look interesting:

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Friday, 8 January 2010

Winter hair blues? Give your hair a herbal treat

If your hair and scalp are suffering from the winter winds and chill, here is a 3-step herbal treat for you. Most of it you can make at home with simple ingredients such as olive oil, rosemary and apple cider vinegar.

Step 1 - Make a herbal hot oil
There are many herbs that are classics for the hair, such as nettle, horsetail, calendula, sage and birch leaf. For this recipe we're going to keep it simple and use rosemary, which most people will already have in the house. Rosemary is stimulating for the scalp and can help promote hair growth. A simple hot oil can be made with olive oil - if you have other oils such as almond, jojoba, avocado or coconut oil then you could use a mixture. When the summer months arrive I'm planning to make infused oils the slow way using the sun - but for a winter's day, this hot oil infusion will only take 15 minutes:

Gently warm 1/2 cup of dried rosemary in 1 cup of olive oil in a small saucepan for around 15 minutes (don't boil it!). Allow the oil to cool and strain through a piece of muslin (or a pop sock!) straight into a bottle. And it's ready to use! You could add a little essential oil such as lavender if you want. Dampen the hair or if you have a lot of products such as hairspray in it then give it a quick wash first and towel dry. Massage the oil gently into the hair and scalp - I love this bit, its so relaxing. You can wrap some cling film over the top, and then a towel, and leave it on for at least 20 minutes. And if you don't use it all then bottle up and it should keep for 2-3 months.

Step 2 - Wash out with herbal shampoo
The next step is simply to shampoo the hair twice to wash out all of the oil. We've deeply moisturised the hair in Step 1 and this is a really good intensive treatment once in a while. It's also important to think about the shampoo you use on a regular basis, as many of them (even so-called herbal or natural ones!) contain harsh ingredients that strip the hair of it's natural condition and upset its natural pH balance.

I've been using the herbal shampoos that I make and now sell through Amiya Natural Beauty for nearly three years, and I very rarely need to use a conditioner as well. I've had similar feedback from many of my customers. That's my "plug" for my lovely shampoos which you can buy online, now on to Step 3! :-)

Step 3 - A herb vinegar rinse
When you start making herbal recipes you discover that apple cider vinegar pops up everywhere as an incredibly versatile ingredient! And hair care is no exception. Added to a herbal infusion, or even just mixed with water, it helps to restore the hair's natural pH balance, remove any built up deposits on the hair and also leaves the hair feeling soft (but not smelling like a chip shop or cider keg, I promise!). If you don't have any apple cider vinegar, you can also use white vinegar.

You may want to choose a different herb to make the infusion (which is basically just a cup of herb tea) depending on what you have available. Here are a few ideas:
  • Rosemary is stimulating for the scalp, and can help counteract hair loss and dandruff.
  • Both chamomile and calendula can have a lightening effect on blonde or brown hair, and are also very soothing.
  • Nettles for itchy scalp and dandruff (pick the young shoots in the spring - remember to use twice the amount of fresh to dry herbs)
  • Sage and yarrow are both useful herbs if you have oily hair.
Use a large mug and pour boiling water over about 3 tablespoons of the dried herb. Once its brewed for at least 10 minutes, strain off the liquid and add about half the amount again of apple cider vinegar. This is now ready to use! Pour over the hair and massage gently in and then a quick rinse with warm water (some people prefer not to rinse it at all, and apparently the vinegar smell goes once you dry the hair). If you can stand putting it on your hair once its cold then this is best for the hair, otherwise use it warm!

Finally, enjoy your soft, conditioned hair (and make sure it is fully dry and put a hat on before venturing into the cold....!)

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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Make your own citrus vinegar for cleaning

I finally got around to making some citrus vinegar over the holidays. A nice simple recipe you just put citrus peel in a jar and cover it with white vinegar! I used lemon, lime and orange peel, which would usually just get thrown away. Plus, of course its anti-bacterial.

It needs to "brew" for a couple of weeks before straining off. I'll put it in a spray bottle to use as a surface cleaner (don't forget to dilute with water, I used about 50:50); and also try some out as fabric softener with the addition of a little essential oil (although I find that with eco-balls my clothes are really soft anyway, so its only for the scent really).

And thank you to Debs at Herbal Haven who passed on this simple recipe at a Mercian Herb Group meeting last year. :-)

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