Saturday, 20 February 2010

UK Herbarium Blog Party February 2010 - Emerging from winter with herbs

As I write the sun is shining and the last remnants of snow quickly melting away - spring really is coming! I feel inspired after reading everyone's posts about emerging from spring with herbs - different insights, approaches and ideas come together in an uplifting whole! I hope you'll will enjoy reading them as much as I have.

Sarah has written a thoughtful post on Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife on the process we go through - physically, emotionally and mentally - as we make the transition from winter to spring. She weaves in how herbs such as goldenrod, St. John's wort, and yarrow can help us on this journey. Sarah writes: "However you emerge from winter into spring, it will be easier if you spend some time in planning and preparation. As with everything, it is not just our physical bodies that are involved, but our minds and spirits too. Whatever you plan, herbs will be there to guide and support you if asked."

There's nothing like getting outside in the garden or, if the snow's still on the ground, dreaming about it. Debs at Herbal Haven shares her sense of excitement in her post about the new plans she is making for her herb garden. "I get a buzz and a feeling of excitement and anticipation at this time of year. I take time to look back at the previous year, reviewing what herbs I came across that I don’t currently grow. Herbs that we can benefit from here in the home, for food, medicine and a myriad of other uses. Then the planning, adapting and changing the garden begins, so that I can include new found treasures".

Madeleine from Mad About Herbs shared some of her favourite ways for emerging from spring with herbs in her post: from planning the herb garden through to making up some new recipes. She also includes some links to useful resources to help in planning your herb garden. She writes " was good to see my first snowdrop and a couple of early daffodils a week ago. They are one of the first signs of Spring and this fills me with hope and the excitement that soon I can get out into the herb garden, sow seeds, prune and just enjoy pottering around every now and then."

Reading Brigitte's lovely post on My Herb Corner felt like being whisked away on a magical herbal journey to spring! :-) From foraging for chickweed, through scents of pot pourri and drops of lemon balm tincture, to a recipe for 'uplifing cookies'. She goes on to share some herbs and recipes for spring cleaning our bodies: "I can guarantee you that a gentle bodily spring cleaning will give you a lift out of the winter-blue and makes you fit for spring".

Lucinda on Whispering Earth has posted about the herbs that she is using to emerge from winter, including a tasty sounding tea of rosemary and lemon balm. She also writes about adaptogens: "Adaptogens are so great during these strange ‘inbetween’ times, neither winter nor quite yet spring, when energies are starting to move in us and runny noses and colds can result from the body ridding itself of the congestion of winter."

Many of us mentioned our joy at seeing the first snow drops, and Claire at Hedgerow Hippy explores the significance of snow drops as flowers representing hope and consolation, as well as a couple of traditional uses.

If like me you're a nettle lover then you'll love Karen's post over at Acupuncture and Herbs. Karen explores the uses of nettles, along with some history, recipes and fascinating facts: "Nettles are the quintessential herb for getting over winter in my book... the magnesium in the leaves is especially helpful if you have the winter blues."

The day I wrote my post for the blog party here on Apotheblogary was a resolutely grey February day and so I decided to make something fun and sweet to share with friends and family. The result were 'Spring Zingers' which included one of my favourite winter pick-me-ups: echinacea and ginseng.

It truly has been a privilege to host this month's blog party, and to be part of such a passionate herbal community - thank you everyone for your contributions! You can see more posts on this topic at the US blog party hosted by Karen Vaughan on Acupuncture and Herbs.
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Zinging into Spring with herbal sweets!

This post is part of the UK Herbarium Blog Party, hosted here on Apotheblogary this month, on Emerging from Winter with Herbs.

It's that time of year when I start to feel the longing for the loveliness of spring and long warm days of summer. That my garden is now full of snow drops is helping me along. I chose the theme for this month's party with this in mind, and hoping to get and share inspiration with my fellow herbal bloggers on how herbs can help us in this seasonal transition.

I decided to make a fun recipe and made my first foray into sweet making. With a fairly large helping of beginner's luck, I'm pretty pleased with the result (and the journey was sticky, sweet, herby fun! :)

My recipe is based on a recipe by Kolbjorn Borseth at Aromantic who uses a base mixture of:
  • 100ml water
  • 450g sugar
  • 125g dextrose (which I managed to get from an old-fashioned chemist)
I also liked the ideas in James Wong's echinacea ice lollys (although I wouldn't fancy something cold if I was unwell!). So I replaced the water with cranberry juice, which I had simmered with some ginger and chilli (yes - woohoo!). Kolbjorn gives detailed instructions on making the sweets but in essence you mix the three ingredients together and bring to the boil with the lid on (not stirring). Once its boiling you take the lid off and put the thermometer in (still not stirring) - when it gets to 162 degrees you pour it out onto a greased baking tray. (My thermometer only goes up to 110 degrees so I guessed this bit, which probably isn't recommended).

Earlier, the lady at the cook shop in town recommended I use a Bake-o-glide reusable sheet for sweet making, and I think it would of been much more difficult without this. You can see it below, it allowed me to easily peel the mixture off and keeping folding it in as it cooled.

Once the liquid cools enough to start forming a skin, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of echinacea and ginseng (50:50). The original recipe suggested it would be 1-2 minutes after pouring the liquid out, but I found that the mixture cooled more slowly and it was more like 5 minutes. As it cooled I continued folding it in and kneading the mixture, using the sheet to avoid burnt fingers!

Once it formed a dough-like mass I start pulling pieces off and rolling them into balls, and placing them on a greased baking tray to cool. And this is where the race begins to making your sweets before the mixture cools and solidifies! I ended up working on the pull down door of my oven with the temperature on very low. This helped keep it just warm enough to work with.

I've called these sweets "Spring Zingers"! :) It will be fun to do variations with different juices and tinctures - next time I will make the initial infusion even stronger, because by the time its all mixed in the chilli and ginger are only very faint.

The only problem with these sweets is that they do stick together very easily. I rolled them in a little icing sugar and put them in little plastic bags which makes it easier to separate them (I initially put some in a jar which looked great until, a few hours later they had formed one immovable mass!). Any tips from sweet makers out there would be welcome! I wonder if I should have reduced the 100ml of liquid by the 2 tablespoons I later added to the mix...

I enjoyed making these sweets and plan to give them as springtime presents for family and friends. :-)
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Sunday, 14 February 2010

Making your own perfume (my first vlog!)

Welcome to my first vlog (apothevlog?!) where I share the fun I've been having recently making my own old-fashioned perfumes.

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Saturday, 6 February 2010

Seville orange bitters

Ever since I read Sarah's post on Citric Bitters last month, I keep seeing Seville orange everywhere I go. I decided to take the hint and made a batch today which is now brewing away along with it's other little friends in my airing cupboard. :-)

Sarah writes:
Seville Orange bitter (Julie Bruton-seal)
Fill an empty jam jar loosely with the peel of a couple of Seville oranges, a tablespoonful of cardamon pods, and a few fennel or anise seeds. If you wish, add a clove or two - but not too many as they are strong. Add a tablespoon of honey, and top the jar up with vodka (or brandy, whisky or rum if you prefer). Keep in a dark cupboard for a month, shaking occasionally, then strain off and bottle the liquid. Take half a teaspoonful before meals to improve digestion.
Lovely and simple. I look forward to straining them off in a month and trying them!

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