Archive | June 2013

Making A Basic Tincture

DSC00571 copyAh, summertime!  It’s my favorite time of the year, hands down.  I just adore the hot summer sun and nearly every conceivable summer activity.  Preserving the fruits of my garden labor is one of my very favorite summer activities.  I find it so rewarding and even therapeutic to make jams and jellies, can veggies, and freeze and dehydrate our produce.  It is really no wonder that discovering yet another way to preserve my garden harvest has me just as giddy as a school girl.  But tincture making really goes beyond just being a method of preservation, it’s a way to extract and concentrate the healing and beneficial properties of an herb and preserve them for a long time, often for many. many years.  Cool, huh?!

As is true with many of my adventures I share on my blog, I am about a green as a bean when it to working with herbs outside of a culinary setting.  But, as is also true, I absolutely LOVE learning new things so I am finding studying herbalism and all about the healing properties of herbs utterly fascinating!  But please, please understand that I am not a certified herbalist and I don’t play one on T.V.!  Don’t take my word as gospel when it comes to working with herbs and please do your own research and consult your doctor before making and using your own herbal medicines.  Herbs are powerful healers, but they can also be dangerous depending on your medical condition and dosages.  Okay, end of lecture.   Moving right along…

About a week ago I started my first tincture using one of my absolute favorite garden herbs: lemon balm.  I am really excited about using this particular tincture.  I often drink lemon balm tea at bedtime as I find it really helps ease me to sleep.  But I don’t necessarily enjoy the middle of the night bathroom run to relieve my swelling bladder.  My hope is that the lemon balm tincture will serve the same sedating purpose as my tea, but without the middle of the night potty run.  Though it’s still steeping away and not quite ready yet for the final step of straining off the plant matter, reading all about the helpful properties of so many of my garden herbs had me anxious to get busy starting more herb tinctures.  I began tackling my ever-growing list of herbs today and would have kept right on going if I hadn’t run out of vodka!

Lemon Balm Tincture

The first tincture on today’s to-do list, red clover, was actually not something I have growing in my yard, but rather something that grows all around me in the empty lots around my neighborhood.  I first started learning about this wonderful “weed” last year during my wine making research.  I had really hoped to make a red clover wine, but sadly missed the blossoming boat so it’s been in the back of my mind for quite a while.  When I read about it’s wonderful healing properties I just knew I had to tincture it!

My littlest helper and I didn’t have to go far to find enough blossoms for our tincture.  We had just what we needed in no time and came right home to prepare the blooms.

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I wasn’t sure if the leaves and stems were acceptable for the tincture so, just to be on the safe side, we set about trimming them away from the blossoms.

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Once we had trimmed away most of the stems and leaves we put the blossoms in our mason jar.

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I had pre-measured 2 cups of vodka to cover the blossoms according to a recipe I was following, but found I needed to add a bit more to submerge them completely.  Mold and bacteria can develop and ruin a tincture if the plant matter isn’t completely covered.

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The only things left to do are label our concoction, shake the jars a few times a day to assist the extraction process, and allow it to steep for a few weeks before straining off the plant material.   It’s also important to “top up” with the alcohol as the plant matter expands or alcohol evaporates.  Yes, it really is that simple!  The healing properties of red clover are extensive but include helping with respiratory problems, cancer, cleansing the liver, cardiovascular health, treating colds, infertility, digestive problems, and skin issues such as acne and psoriasis.   Now that’s just super cool as most people just look at it as a lowly weed.  🙂  I am hoping I will have soon have time before the blossoms fade to gather more red clover to make a syrup and perhaps even enough to finally start a batch of red clover wine.

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For our next tincture I decided to tackle my chamomile.  I planted this last year, but sadly never did anything with it besides watch it grow and admire its beauty.  I was aware of its renown for its calming and soothing properties, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  But as is true of many herbs, the healing properties of chamomile are vast including being an anti-inflammatory, assisting with healing wounds, fighting colds, and soothing the stomach.

I particularly enjoyed the task of harvesting my chamomile blossoms.  Their petite, daisy-like appearance coupled with their sweet, somewhat earthy scent was balm to my very soul!  I couldn’t help but sniff and sniff the contents of my mason jar over and over as I collected the delicate blossoms.  No wonder there are always so many little critters flittering about these lovely plants!  They are utterly delicious and oh, so pretty!

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After collecting and sniffing, sniffing and collecting I covered them in vodka.  Aren’t they lovely?  I can hardly wait to try the tincture!  I plan to mix it with a bit of water, some lemon balm and lavender tinctures as a soothing bedtime sleep aid.

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So with two tinctures brewing I was on to the next!  My lovely lavender plants have been covered with blossoms for a couple of weeks and I was anxious to harvest some before they passed their prime.  So a few days ago I gathered a bunch and put them in my dehydrator.  Once they had dried I separated the buds from the stems, all the while taking full advantage of the free HBO and Starz  preview weekend on Dish!  Bonus!   When it was time to make my tinctures I had nearly enough from my harvest to make a full batch.  I added some purchased culinary lavender to my harvested buds and topped it all with vodka.

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Finally, my last tincture of the day was sage.  This poor herb is so infrequently used in my garden and yet grows so well that I was delighted to discover its many touted healing properties.   Useful for not only its antiviral, antiseptic, astringent, and anti-fungal properties, sage is also great for memory issues as well as a beauty aid.  Yep, they had me at “memory issues”!  I just gotta try this!

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I didn’t have to snip for long before I had all that I needed for my tincture.

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This last shot is of a few Plantain leaves I found while collecting the red clover blossoms.  This powerhouse herb that can be found just about anywhere as it’s one of the top three weeds found in yards everywhere.  It is a remarkable healer for all types of skin rashes, insect bites, cuts, bee stings and even snake bites!  I plan to go plantain foraging in the near future, but decided the best way to preserver these for now was to dehydrate them.  Once I collect more I plan to make a tincture and an oil to have at the ready in our first aid kit.

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With so many more healing plants growing in my garden and beyond, I am excited to learn more about them and how to use them not only for culinary purposes, but to begin understanding and harnessing their healing properties for myself and my loved ones.  Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave comments below about your experience with the healing properties of herbs, tincture making, or using herbs as medicine.  Also, if you have any corrections or suggestions for my blog, please let me know!  I welcome your input.   Blessings!

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Garden Snapshots: Bugs & Such

Olympic Games Opening Ceremony 2012-21 copyThe discovery of two of these guys munching away on my carrot tops gave me a great excuse to play around with my new camera and some new photo editing software, something I’ve had little time yet to do.  I was too lazy to swap lenses to one better suited to macro shots or even take the camera out of auto mode.  But for the most part they turned out pretty well and it was a fun evening of shooting and editing.  Hope you enjoy!

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Raised Bed Garden Update: June 14

Olympic Games Opening Ceremony 2012-3 copyWell, after quite some time away preparing for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration weekend I am finally settling back into a normal (whatever that is!) routine.  During my extended blogging absence we tackled some big garden projects and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results.

My favorite change in the garden is our newly mulched pathways!  The transformation is astonishing, well at least it is to me.  This rather enormous project wasn’t really planned, not for this year anyway.  But because mowing and trimming between the beds was such a royal pain in the patootie, especially since we don’t yet have an in-ground irrigation system, I knew it must be done.  Our snaking soaker hose watering system, though not yet in place for this growing season, makes the task of mowing most disagreeable.  But when DH decided to rent a chain saw and chipper shredder to tame our ever-encroaching mess of a woods-line, I seized upon my good, free mulch fortune and bumped said project up a year.  🙂

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After a rather Herculean effort  to remove the thick sod myself and none too few rather unsavory words passed over my lips, we ended up renting yet another piece of power equipment: a sod cutter!  Though the sod cutter didn’t quite put an end to the utterances of four letter words, at least not on my DH’s part, it certainly made the considerable task much easier.   Then, down went rolls of weed block and lots and lots of mulch.  We ended up having to purchase more mulch to finish the job, but happily most of the much came right from our own property!

Another of my favorite projects of late was making these awesome solar lanterns!  A Pinterest project come to life, I just adore how these mason jar lanterns add a touch of class to my garden.  (Unfortunately when I made these I didn’t have time blog about it, but I will try to put together a how-to post on how I made them some time in the near future.)  Making them was pretty easy, but I did have to get DH to crimp the chains to the metal band and screw them onto the jars.  The only problem with how I put them together is that I didn’t seal the gap between the solar disc and edge of the jar so it collects water whenever it rains.  The next time I make them I will try sealing them with some type of epoxy.

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These awesome bamboo tee-pees were yet another of my fun springtime projects.  I found the bamboo poles at Walmart and already had the netting leftover from making my vertical trellises last summer.  I used zip ties to attach the netting to the poles.  It was definitely a two-man job, but they didn’t take very long to assemble.  One package of netting wrapped quite neatly around the bamboo frame with a little left to spare.  If you plan to make these, just be sure to shove the poles deeply into the ground or they will tumble right over in a big windstorm!   Um, yeah.  Duh!  I am growing lettuce and spinach under the trellis while my bean plants are making their way up out of the ground and finding their way up the netting.  In addition to these crops, I have a number of other plants growing in this bed including tomatillos, carrots, nasturtium, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, and Thai basil.

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The rest of the photos are just a few snapshots of my garden beds.  This bed has some kale, broccoli, eggplant and lemongrass.  But most exciting is the row of plants closest to the trellis: Sugar Baby Watermelons!  Though admittedly I may have been overly ambitious to think these will make it to our dinner table, I just couldn’t help but try.  I will keep you posted…

Olympic Games Opening Ceremony 2012-13This is my pepper bed, but  I also have onions growing at the far end of the bed.  They are all looking terrific!  There are blossoms and even some small pepper appearing, and my onions look great which is a first for me.

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This bed has many plants, but pictured here I have sugar peas, lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, nasturtium, and onions… or garlic… or shallots.  I did a terrible job marking my plants this year.

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I decided to dedicate two of my squares to flowers and cutting gardens.  I was disappointed that my seedlings and bulbs weren’t in full bloom for my parent’s party, but they are certainly growing quickly now.

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Looks like someone needs to tend to the weed wacking!

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Some of my MANY tomato plants in the right hand bed, as well as lots of herbs, flowers, and onions.  The flower beds are the two center squares and the far left one is the one with the snow peas, lettuces, onions, etc., as well as chamomile, tomatoes, dahlias, basil, and, well I forget the rest.  🙂

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And last but not least, today’s harvest!  Our strawberry patch is pretty much done producing, but our strawberry harvest was beyond incredible!  I was blown away with the vast amount of berries we were able to harvest day after day.  I planted the patch last spring so I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I assumed we would have to wait a few years before it really began to produce, but I am so happy I was wrong!  Most of the berries went into the freezer for a future jamming session, but we enjoyed every single juicy, homegrown bite of the ones that did make it into our mouths.

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So there you have it.  Our beautiful summer garden is growing fabulously along with very few issues… yet.  But the hot, humid dog days haven’t really hit us yet.  I suspect there will be plenty of pesky issues to deal in my near future.  But for now I plan to grab an iced cold glass of lemon balm tea and plop down into one of my newly constructed  Adirondack chairs (oh yeah… another one of my springtime projects) and watch my crops grow.  🙂