Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wild Harvesting

Noticed earlier this week that the farmer who lives next door has moved his one cattle herd into the meadow close to my house. So that was a sign for me that it was time to get out to his meadow and do some wild harvesting before the cattle have stripped the meadow.

Finally on Wednesday morning, after several days of rain (which made harvesting anything to be dried impossible) I got out to the meadow. Thankfully my neighbor has given me permission to wild craft from his meadows at my leisure, as long as I'm sure the bull is not in that particular meadow at the time.

So that is the first lesson of wild crafting, be sure you have the permission of the land owner to traipse across their property and gather things you may need. No one wants to be hurt by something they are not aware of, be it the bull or the farmer with his shot gun.

The second lesson of wild crafting is to be sure you are at least 50 ft. away from any highway or location that would add any type of pollutant to the plant. Harvesting along roadways or highways or even close to manufacturing facilities will bring home whatever the plant has been breathing, be it carbon monoxide from car exhausts or whatever is coming from the exhausts of the factory.

The third lesson is to never take more than you need, and always leave enough of the plant (particularly if you are after roots) that the plant will come back next year. I would never want to destroy a future crop by taking the entire plant. Then I would have to find a new source next year for the same plant. Trust me there is more than enough for everyone, in my case for me and the cows!!!

This week in the meadow I harvested red clover blossoms, alfalfa, blessed thistle, and some plantain. I also harvested jewelweed, just not from the meadow.

The clover, alfalfa, and thistle I have dried some to store for whatever may come up this winter and with the remainder I have made some tinctures. (We will get to tinctures in the coming weeks, I promise) The plantain I have put in the freezer until I get around to making one of my salves, probably sometime next week.

Jewel weed, this one I want to share my process for preserving this wonderful plant for use over the coming year. Here is a picture of the plant before I harvested a bit for my use.
I don't know about you, but I am allergic to poison ivy. It seems that all I have to do is look at it and it is all over me. Thankfully years ago I learned of the wonderful connection between poison ivy and jewel weed.

I had a teacher tell me many years ago that for every allergy nature throws at us, nature also has the cure. Jewel weed is nature's cure for poison ivy. The only bad thing about this wonderful plant is that is doesn't grow over the entire year like poison ivy. I know that come spring when I am beginning my work in the garden, I'll come across poison ivy without realizing it until it is too late and I've already had it in my hand. So how do I ensure that when I need the jewel weed, it will be available. Particularly since it doesn't really show itself in the wilds until late July - early August and by the end of September it is usually gone.

My process is very simple actually. I harvest a large handful. You can see from this picture that is has wilted a bit. I didn't get to it yesterday as I had hoped.

I cut the leafy tops to include the orange flower and the stems, and put it into my blender or food processer (whichever I happen to have on the counter). I fill the blender to the top with the leaves, flowers, and stems. I do cut the stems up a bit, usually into pieces that are about 1 1/2" long before I add to the blender.
I then add about 10 oz. of water, turn on the blender and let it pulse until I have a green looking pulp. Often you will have to help out the blender by stirring and pushing the herb to the bottom (just be sure you have turned the blender off first).

Once I have this wonderful healing pulp,
I pour it into an ice cube tray, put it in the freezer until it has frozen.
Once the individual cubes have frozen, I then take the jewel weed out of the ice cube tray and put into freezer bags and return to the freezer. Then come March and April when I doing my garden clean up and don't see the small sprig of poison ivy until I've pulled it and handled it, I will have nature's cure in a state that will work on the poison.

I say in a state that will work because the one thing with jewel weed, if you dry it and then try to rehydrate to use in the spring, it just doesn't work as well. Think of it like the aloe plant that you have in your kitchen for when you burn yourself; you need the fresh juice from the aloe plant and you need the fresh juice from the jewel weed. By making a pulp of the fresh plant and freezing it, you are able to maintain the fresh compounds. I'm not a scientist, so I can't explain the exact hows and whys, I just know from experience it works.

Now you have your own year round crop of jewel weed, how do you use it. If I'm home I stop immediately whatever I'm doing and come inside, get a cube of the jewel weed from the freezer, and rub the cube of jewel weed over the area of my body that has been exposed to the oils from the poison ivy plant. This will actually prevent my body from breaking out at all. If I don't catch all the oils, and some of the blisters of the poison do appear on my skin, the pulp in the cube will relief the itching that comes with the poison and help with drying up the blisters faster than any over the counter cream.

One of the salves that I hope to get to next week will be to help with itching, and jewel weed is always an ingredient in that salve as well. So I anticipate that you will see this herb again before the growing season is behind us.

Happy Harvesting!!!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Last Friday I shared pics of my harvest. I'm sure that I need to get back to the garden to harvest again; however, it is fair week here in my little town and all else stops as everyone enjoys the fair and for me personally as I support the various organizations I belong to that have food booths at the fair. If I don't forget this evening, I want to take some pictures of the herb competition at the fair; perhaps I'll share those next week.

I want to share one more way I have of preserving my harvest that keeps me going throughout the year. I started several years ago making herbal and fruit syrups. Here is a picture of my current collection of syrups.

The two bottles in the front are what I made after my harvest last week. A mint syrup and a ginger syrup. The others are what I've made over the past several weeks and include rose syrup, lavender syrup, lime syrup, cherry syrup, and blueberry syrup.

Making the syrups are very easy, it can just be a bit sticky as you are working with a sugar water.

I start with 5 quarts of water and 5 pounds of sugar. I place both into my large soup pot and put it on the stove to simmer. Here you can see it as it starts.
I let it simmer until it is about half of what I started with.

At this point I turn off the heat and let it cool down a bit. I usually then divide it into 2 large bowls and add whatever I want to flavor it with. This time mint
and ginger root
The amount of the herb or fruit used is very dependent on how strong you want the syrup. For the mint I used 2 large handfuls of my cuttings and for the ginger I used 2 medium root pieces. The ginger you can see I sliced; however for the mint I did nothing but add it to the syrup.

I put a small plate on top of the herb or fruit to keep it submersed in the syrup, covered with saran wrap and let it soak for about 48 hrs.
I then strain the syrup from the herb and bottle.

Now I have flavored syrups to use for a variety of things in my kitchen, and the very best part is I know exactly what is in them, no additives or chemicals. I will use these syrups in recipes that call for flavorings, as topping on ice cream. This past weekend I was sharing a bottle of sparkling wine with some friends and they wanted to try the lavender syrup in the wine, and I must say it was delicious!!!

My favorite way to use the syrups though is just to flavor water. The mint that I just made for instance, take about 1/8 cup and pour over a glass filled with ice, add water and you have an instant glass of mint iced tea. Or with the ginger or cherry syrups, again using about 1/8 cup of the syrup, pour over ice and fill the glass with club soda and you have ginger ale or cherry soda with no chemicals added. Talk about refreshing!!!!

The syrups sit on my counter in the kitchen. At this point all I can say about shelf life of the syrup is that it can take me up to 9 months to use a bottle and it has never went bad. With one exception, I did make kiwi syrup one time and found that I had to keep it refrigerated to keep it from growing mold; however, I have not had that happen with any of my other syrups.

So if you are looking for a new way to use up some of your harvest, get creative with sugar and water and make your own syrups.

Happy Harvesting!!

P.S. I haven't forgotten about the lavender ice cream recipe, I just have not quite perfected the taste of the ice cream yet. So stand by, it will be coming soon.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Harvest and Water

Friday I finally braved the heat here in the North East and went out to the garden to see if there was anything that needed harvested and I found oregano, basil, mint, and lemon balm.

As I looked over the harvest laying on my kitchen counter, my thoughts went to the heat we have been experiencing over the past several weeks and the importance of keeping ourselves hydrated and of course water is the best drink for hydration.

I keep a pitcher of water in my frig most of the time and I've started adding things to the pitcher to give it a little flavor, things like fruit, vegetables, herbs, etc. My favorite combination has become cucumber, lemon, and mint. Here you can see a pic of the current pitcher. If you look closely, you will see that rather than lemon, there is lime in this pitcher. Another of my attempts at trying a different variety; but I do keep going back to the cucs, lemon, mint combination.

The addition of veggies, fruits, and herbs to my water has definitely had an impact on the amount of water I drink each day in a positive way. What I love most is that not only am I keeping hydrated in this heat, but I'm getting the healing benefits of the items I've added to the water.

The lemon slices provide me Vitamin C and help with the arthritis that is starting in my knees. The cucumbers not only provide my body with the vitamins and minerals provided by the veggie, but it also works to keep my kidneys and bladder working and ensuring that uric acid doesn't build up in those organs causing kidney or bladder stones. I'm sure each of you have experience the way the body wants to maintain water when we are experiencing a heat wave, our feet and hands swell and the cucs work to ensure the kidneys eliminate excess fluids from the body. And the mint, what to say about the healing properties of the mint, it works like magic on the body; to help it maintain a level of balance, helping with insomnia, migraines, heartburn, not to mention the urinary tract.

So start adding herbs, fruits or veggies to the water that you drink each day and drinking that 8 glass each day will not be so difficult!!! Then share with me what your favorite combination becomes.

p.s. part of the basil harvest on Friday was the Opal basil, that beautiful purple basil. So I made a small batch of opal basil vinegar. You will note that I used distilled vinegar (the only time I ever use distilled vinegar when making flavored vinegars). You can see the pink color of the vinegar and it has only been soaking for 2 days.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Basil Harvest

While the garden has many more days of growth before I even begin to think about the final harvest of the year, I was able to get some harvesting done this morning before the rains came. There are many many ways to preserve your herbs when you harvest and this was one of mine this morning.

My kitchen was out of basil flavored vinegar - and this is probably my favorite flavored vinegar for salads and such. So I took my basil harvest this morning and made myself some "Basil Flavored Vinegar".

Flavored vinegars are so easy to make. I cut the beautiful basil this morning just after the rain from the night had dried and before the showers began today (should have taken a picture before I put it into the jar). Filled a quart jar with what I had cut. Poured apple cider vinegar to the top of the jar. Put the lid back on the jar, and it will sit on my kitchen counter for about one week. I'll then put a fresh sprig of basil in my decorative vinegar bottle and fill it with the basil flavored vinegar.

There is probably sufficient basil in this jar that I could have made a half gallon of flavored vinegar rather than just a quart; so I'll probably refill the quart jar with new apple cider vinegar once I bottle this original batch.

Now I'll have flavored vinegar to use as a basis for salad dressings or to just sprinkle over the fresh red beet greens I just bought today. Another way to give your breakfast a bit of a jazz, sprinkle a few drops of your favorite flavored vinegar over your scrambled eggs. Wow.

The reason for apple cider vinegar vice distilled vinegar we will talk about another day.

Do you have a favorite flavored vinegar? What is your process for making it?

p.s. Are you able to see some of my lavender harvest in the background of the picture?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lovely Lavender!

This is what can happen to your lavender when you go on vacation during the first week of July. Rather than having the "lovely" buds to harvest, I now have the "lovely" flowers. Not the peak time to harvest, but since I've missed it; I will harvest immediately to maintain as much of the scent as possible. Wonder how my batch of Lavender ice cream will turn out - stay tuned to find out.