Thursday, July 9, 2015

Miracle Green Salve

About 30 years ago when my daughter was in elementary school, I began to make my own salves. Some of the recipes I used had been given to me by other herbalists and some were of my own making. I got to the point that I was only making one or two recipes each year, and usually my own recipes. One, a kind of do everything salve, and one to help with itching from insect bites and poison ivy (which I get terribly even to this day).

I was making my "kind of do everything" salve one day when Suann had a friend visiting. Her friend suffered from psoriasis and was having a terrible outbreak. I was bottling up my salve and put a little in a container for her. She immediately put it on and felt relief from the itching. She took the container home and continued to use the salve. Up to this point, my salve never had a name; around the house and family it was simply known as mom's everything salve. Suann's friend returned for a visit about a week later with an empty container wanting more of this "Miracle Green Salve" as it has cleared up her outbreak of psoriasis and she and her mom wanted to have a container on hand. Hence the name of my "do everything salve" became Miracle Green Salve and it has stuck for the past 30 years.

I have just completed a batch of this Miracle Green Salve, probably the first of two I will make this season. I wanted to share my techniques for making salve in general as well as this specific recipe (if you can call it a specific recipe).

I start with a couple bottles of good olive oil, which I put into my crock pot. I use olive oil for several reasons, it is easily available, but it also doesn't turn rancid as quickly as some of the other oils I have tried, i.e. Sesame or Avocado oils.
You can see a picture of the oil in the crock pot here. I turn the crock pot on low and let the olive oil begin to heat up a little while I prepare the herbs.

Usually I just go to the garden and cut what I want to add, bringing them inside and immediately adding them to the crock pot. This year with all the rain, I needed to rinse them off a little to get the dirt off that has splattered from the rain. Here you can see my harvest of herbs, washed and laying on a towel to draw out some of the excess moisture.

Included in this harvest are comfrey, mullein plant, calendula blossoms, plantain plants, and chickweed plants). I will sometimes add some bread and butter plant (at least that's what I know it as) as well as a little rosemary or thyme.

Once the oil begins to get warm (not hot - just warm), I will add as many of the herbs as the crock pot will hold.
This year the pot would not hold all the herbs at one time, so I kept a small pile of comfrey and calendula to be added as the herbs began to wilt.

I let the herbs simmer in the oil for most of the day, this time, adding those left overs after a couple of hours when the pot would hold them. I do stir the pot occasionally, just to make sure all the herbs get down into the oil so the oil can pull out the healing properties.

Here you can see how the herbs have wilted down and are totally covered by the oil. I will let them simmer for several more hours at this point.

I then begin the process of straining the herbs from the oil. I have a large kitchen strainer that I use for this purpose.
Using a pair of my kitchen tongs, I put a pile of the herbs into the strainer and let it sit over the crock pot so all the oil drains back into the pot off the herbs. If I am in a hurry, I will use a wooden spoon or such to push the oil out, but have found that if you have the time to just let it drain, you will get more of the oil off the herbs. You can also see that I have not cooked the herbs to the point of them being burned. I have done that a few times by putting the salve on to cook and forgetting about it - and while it has never impacted the end product, I try not to forget it these days!!!

Once I have the bulk of the herbs removed from the oil, I will then actually pour the herb infused olive oil thru a sieve to get any last little pieces of plant or dirt material out of it. I usually like to rinse the crock pot at this point as well, again to remove any last dregs of plant or dirt material.

Then the oil goes back into the crock pot with a piece of bees wax. While I can often only find bees wax in large chunks, my preferred size is about the size of a small cupcake. So I will often melt down the large chunk and using parchment paper and my cupcake pans, make my own small chunks. For 32 oz of olive oil, one small cupcake sized piece of bees was is just perfect.

I will drop the bees was into the hot herb infused olive oil and let it simmer until the wax has totally melted. I then turn off the crock pot and walk away for 10-12 hours. This allows the salve to firm up and I am then able to determine if it needs more wax, or if I have added too much wax and must add a little more oil to get it the consistency that I want it. This year, I got it absolutely right the first time.
I usually will stick a spoon into the hardened salve to see what the consistency is. Here you can see the salve finished and sitting in the crock pot waiting for me to put it into containers. For some reason, I can't seem to find the tops to the little containers that I usually use. So until I get out and purchase a few small jars, it will just have to sit in the crock pot.

Some years I will reheat the salve to a liquid and pour into the containers and other years I just spoon it out into the containers. Which I do with this batch will depend on how much time I have when I get around to putting it into containers.

A word to the wise though, if I'm not able to get the herb bulk to my compost pile and it just goes into the trash, be careful when you empty your trash. Several years ago, I had put the oily bulk herbs into my trash, I was emptying the trash and put the trash bag at the top of the stairs for my next trip downstairs. While it sat there, some of the remaining oil dripped through the bag. I picked up the trash bag and carried it downstairs not noticing the puddle of olive oil laying on the floor. When I stepped past it again, I went slipping and sliding across the floor, breaking my knee in the attempt to maintain my balance. So beware of the oil in your trash bags!!!

Happy salve making everyone!!!!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Garden Pictures

Finally had a day where the oregano was dry enough before a complete day of sunshine on it to make my harvest. I do not like to harvest after the sunshine has released many of the essential oils within the plant. Unfortunately it was beginning to set flowers, but was not so far along that it impacted the size of the leaves of the plant. Here you can see a picture of most of my harvest. I've spent the afternoon tying bundles to hang in my kitchen for a few days to dry. Hoping to have it ready to put into storage by the end of the week - and again with the AC on in the house, 2-3 days of small bundles should be enough.

Our current day oregano is native to the Mediterranean; however there is a similar strain that comes from Mexico. It has been used since the days of ancient Rome. However, until after WWII, it was an unknown here in the United States. Brought back with the soldiers and others who learned to love pizza. It is a natural for any tomato dish, yet I also love it with scrambled eggs and chicken dishes. Add some dried oregano to your bread dough and have a wonderful Italian flavored bread. I blend oregano with several other spices to create my Italian blend, things like paprika, garlic, pepper, and basil. I like to use this blend with pasta even if I am not using a tomato based sauce and will often add it to my white wine sauces as well.

Oregano is not used much as a medicinal plant. Yet it does have some wonderful tendencies. Colic with a baby and no catnip in the house - try a tisane (tea) of oregano. Having muscle cramps after an extreme workout in the garden, try a tisane of oregano. Its antispasmodic and calmative properties have been used by herbalist for centuries.

PS - another picture of my calendula harvest from today. My 10 plants just keep producing and producing blossoms. Time to get out to the market for a bottle of olive oil to make my first batch of salve. More about salve when I start that process within the next week.

Happy gardening!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Working in the garden yesterday and I noticed that one of my parsley plants had already started to bolt. When a plant bolts, it is beginning the process to create seeds. If I were in the seed business rather than the herb business, that would be a good thing; however, since I want to be able to harvest parsley from that plant for the remainder of the season, I needed to take action immediately. Here is a picture of my parsley patch, but the bolting plant is just in the middle and not very visible.

So I'm thinking, why would parsley that I have just planted this season be bolting already? As I think back over the spring season, I know that I put my parsley out very early this year - mid-April actually. This is very early for my part of the country to begin planting anything except root vegetables. We then had a week in mid May where the temperatures went down to freezing. While we didn't have any frost to damage the plants, the cold temperatures could have given the plants the idea that they were experiencing winter.

Parsley here in my growing zone (zone 6) is a biennial and the parsley always bolts early in the second growing season. So that's the only think I can think of that would cause this to occur so early in the first growing season of the plant.

What did I do when I took action yesterday. I immediately cut back the plant that began to bolt, taking the bolted stem right to the ground. I then harvested my entire parsley crop, which I now have laid out to dry in my kitchen. With the humidity we've been experiencing here in south-central Pennsylvania, the AC is on, so it should be completed dry and ready for me to store in the next day or two. If I didn't have the AC on, I would be looking at another method of drying it for storage, mostly because when it is this humid, the herb just won't dry sufficiently to be put in a jar and placed in my herb cupboard. Perhaps using the dehydrator or freezing the harvest would have been the other ways I would have preserved my harvest for the coming winter use.

After making my first harvest of parsley, I decided I needed to look around the garden to ensure nothing else was moving toward the seed phase, and found that my oregano, the Greek variety that I have planted, is moving toward setting on flowers as
well. Another herb that needed the first harvest made immediately. For me unfortunately we had a little rain shower before I got to it, and this morning I woke to more rain, so it will have to wait for the next dry day, but it will be the first thing on my to-do list when that day arrives. Here you can see a picture of the oregano. The leaves are getting very small towards the top of the plant and you can begin to see how the flower pod is beginning to form. You always want to harvest before your herb gets to this point so maintain the best flavor of your harvest.

But back to parsley. This is a very misunderstood herb in my humble opinion. Everyone looks at it as more of a decoration in your cooking than a flavoring. And what about it's medicine qualities, way down on the list for many herbalists.

Parsley is one of our ancient herbs and its usage can be dated back to the 3rd century BC. While it may have a mild flavor when added to your favorite dish, it is also very high in vitamin C. It blends well with many other herbs without over-powering them or the dish you are adding it to. Just to chew on a fresh leaf is a great way to freshen your breath. Parsley is always a part of my bundle of herbs when I make up a bouquet garni, with the other herbs being chosen by the dish I'm making.

On the medicinal side of parsley, it has a multitude of uses. I use it in every diuretic blend I create, need some help to release the fluid being retained in your body, parsley is your herb. I also use it when helping someone with bladder infections as one of the ingredients in my blends. Beware though of using parsley in your blend if your kidneys are inflamed. You want to get your kidneys healthy before you begin to use parsley so you don't overtax them and make the inflammation worse. With Parsley being high in vitamin C and with the green leafy sprigs it is also high in chlorophyll, it makes a great addition to any antioxidant blend you are creating as well.

Happy Blending!!!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Gardening Experiment

I have been working to terrace a bank in the back area of my yard. However, I chose to use limestone stones to create the walls to hold the terraces in place and it is definitely taking me longer than I anticipated to move all those stones. Just imagine 8 pallets of stone weighing from 5 lb. to 100 lb. Needless to say, I am unable to move some of them and am thankful every day for my son and nephew for their help with these larger stones.

I was so excited to have this area of my garden ready for spring planting when I started this project last fall, mostly because it gets sufficient sun for veggies that other parts of my gardens don't get. While the first level of stone work for the top terrace is almost finished, it still remained to back fill with dirt and I knew this wasn't going to happen in time for late spring planting.

I then began to do some reading on alternative gardening methods. Reading on planting in straw bales which was very interesting to me as I could place the bales on the soil between the walls and still grow my veggies. As I continued to read, I saw information about using hay bales and how similar to straw bale gardening yet a little different. Mostly because of the nutrients the hay provide that the straw don't.

The big difference is that you must prepare the hay bales, helping them start to break down as well as killing all the seeds that are laying there waiting to sprout so you don't have a weed problem taking away the nutrients from your plants. This process takes about two weeks before you can plant.

As I had decided to try this new method of gardening, one of my friends from high school mentioned on FB that she was baling hay that day. So I reached out to see if what she was baling were actually bales and not the large round things the farmers around me are all using today. And sure enough, she still did the bales that I remember from childhood - and they were just the exact size that I could manage on my own. So I went and picked up six bales of fresh hay. Thanks Sharon!!! Placed them in the space between the first two stone walls of my terraced bank and began the process of preparing the bales.

The preparation process was very simple actually, just took time. The first day, you spread a nitrogen fertilizer over the bales, about 1/2 cup per bale, then water the bale until it is soaked thru. Everything I read said to use a fertilizer that was 45-0-0; however I could not find any fertilizers with that strong of a nitrogen base. So I used what I could find and it is 13-0-0. The first day, I did the watering with my watering wand, and let me tell you - to get the hay bale totally wet took quite some time - I was out there with the watering wand for hours. The next day, you just water. Again I used my manual watering wand, but decided I had to go and pick up a soaker hose as this watering was just to time consuming.

From the third day forward, I would spread 1/2 cup nitrogen fertilizer on each bale and turn on the soaker hose. The next day (day 4) I just turned on the soaker hose until the hay bale was wet through and through.

After two weeks of this daily process, I decided it was time to check out the hay bales and begin my planting process. I was truly surprised by how much the hay bales had begun to break down. They were still working deep in the center of the bale and as such were still rather warm. I'm only hoping this heat from the hay bale will not impact my plants, but only time will tell.

So after two week of watering, fertilizing and watering and watering again, I decided it was time to plant.

Here you can see my six hay bales fully planted. For most of the bales, I only planted two plants each. Pumpkin and squash in one. Cantaloupe and squash in another. Squash and zucchini in a third. Peppers in a fourth. Tomatoes and herbs in the remaining two. Now I wait to see how they grow and how they produce. Trust me, I'll keep you informed on my process and any things I will change for the future.

If you look closely at the photos, you can see my walls in the process as well as the soaker hose as it snakes along the hay bales. And of course the tomato cages at the far end. Keeping my fingers crossed for a success harvest in this gardening experiment!!!


Friday, May 22, 2015

Late Spring Harvest

Not sure about you - but I haven't even completed my planting for the season; however, I have also already begun my season harvesting.

My Calendula, which I planted in mid April, have been blooming at a wonderful rate. I harvested another 10-12 blossoms this morning to add to my sheet of blossoms drying on the island in my kitchen. Here is a picture of one of my patches of calendula in the garden.
I say one of the patches, because I have 4 patches of 5-6 plants in each patch. These 20+ plants will provide me with sufficient harvest for all my uses during the coming year - or lets say it usually does.

Here is a picture of this past week's harvest of calendula laying on a sheet on the island in my kitchen drying.
I do usually dry my herbs just laying on a towel or sheet in my kitchen. The exceptions to this rule only occurs when we are having a period of very high humidity here in south central Pennsylvania. During those times, I may pull out my trusty dehydrator or turn on the oven for a short time. Using the microwave is another fast and easy way of drying your harvest, but one that I just don't like to use unless I'm in a big rush. Two minutes (using 30 second intervals) is a fast way to dry any harvest - but then you are also exposing the harvest that you are going to be using for medicinal things to the frequencies of the microwaves. At this point in time, I'm not a firm believer that those waves and frequencies are totally healthy for us.

So why do I use so much calendula or pot marigold (calendula officinalis) in a year's time?

Calendula is a staple in most of my salve recipes because is works so well on all skin wounds, bruises, sprains, sores, boils, etc. The vulnerary tendencies of this herb are a wonderful protection against infection and also work to stimulate cellular growth.

It is also a mainstay in my tincture or tea formations when I need something to help with cramps or muscle spasms due to it's antispasmodic tendencies. I say muscle spasms because even when I'm blending a tincture to help someone to pass a kidney stone, calendula works it wonders to help with the spasms that the movement of the stone may cause. Cramps, this is something we can all relate to. The body is cramping because it is trying to rid itself of something that doesn't want to go, i.e. a bowel movement, or even menstrual cramps; or it is cramping because of over exertion. How many of you have over done it in the garden on any given day. I know I have; and when this happens, I always add calendula to my cup of tea before bed.

Calendula has some additional healing tendencies, such as increasing perspiration and the flow of bile, but it is not my go to herb for these needs.

So if you haven't yet gotten your calendula or pot marigold in the ground, I recommend that you do so soon. This is not a plant that does well in the heat of summer and if I haven't gotten my harvest by early July, I'm going to be waiting for next year.

Happy harvesting!!!

Friday, May 8, 2015


Have been spending quite a bit of time in the gardens over the past couple of weeks, and they look so much better for it!!! Yesterday planted my tobacco and sage plants for ceremony work and today hoping to get my basil plants in the ground.

I've saved a special spot for the 12-15 basil plants that I put in each year. One near the garden walk so I can brush against them when I walk thru and enjoy the release of their essential oils and lovely fragrance. Because I have respiratory issues, asthma and a tendency for bronchitis, I'm always looking for things to help my lungs perform at their best. Basil, while not recognized as a star performer for the respiratory system, but more of a performer for the digestive system, is always a welcome addition for me to help cleanse my lungs.

Since I cannot see the mountains on either side of my small valley due to the haze, I believe summer is on its way and there will be no more sever cold spells like we have had in the past couple of weeks, so it is now safe for me to plant this tender annual in the garden. Pictures to come.

Do you have a favorite basil recipe or use? I would love to hear about it.

Happy Gardening!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring with Freeze Warnings

Returning to my blog after quite an absence. Life, home, health, and family seemed to take over my time and I just couldn't get it together to do any writing or sharing on my favorite topic - HERBS!

Just heard the news that we may have temperatures tonight and tomorrow night that will freeze what you have already planted!!! So would urge you to take a walk thru the garden to see what you may need to protect. Of course your perennials coming up should be safe - but if you have started to plant any of the more annual type of things, they will need protected. A couple of ways that I do that: a cardboard box placed over the plants or sometime I will use a tomato cage with a garbage bag over it. Anything to keep the plant somewhat protected should work just fine. Of course maybe I'm the only one who has been enjoying the garden so much this spring that I have some tender annuals already in the ground. They are planted next to the house, which usually protects them; but think I may go out and add to that protection tonight.

I have started my list of herb plants that I must replace this year. I had some work done on the patio last summer and all the digging and moving of dirt buried some of my most favorite plants. I know my list will just continue to grow until I get to the Baltimore Herb Festival on Memorial Day Weekend. The many vendors at this show make it possible to find those herbs that you just thought were impossible to find. During the past several years I've been able to add a great many medicinal plants to my garden. Those specialty plants that only a herbal healer would want to plant, like blue and black cohosh, wild ginger, valerian. Can't wait to see what I may be able to pick up this year!!!

If you have never been to this festival and are looking for some of the more exotic medicinal plants, I would urge you to think about going. It is held in a lovely park on the north side of town, with vendors from up and down the mid-Atlantic region. Workshops are offered throughout the day. I first met Dr. James Duke at this festival 30 years ago, so you never know who you may meet.

Here is the web site for more information -

Happy Planting!!!!!