Easing Into Fall

Fall greetings!

Our herbs are just about done for the year. This has been a great year for Garlic, Basil and Tomatoes, here. Bell peppers? Not so much. Last year we grew huge ones, but this year they are like little dwarf peppers.

Four plants of Sweet Basil have turned into 3 pints of Basil Pesto for the freezer, so far, several rounds of Caprese salad, and a few nicely seasoned batches of marinara sauce. It appears I may have one more good harvest of Basil. I did find a few new Calendula flowers yesterday, and you can never have too many of those. Oh, and a few stragglers of Echinacea. But mostly my focus has moved on to Hops and Jalapeños at this point.

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Hop vines have to share my attention with the last of the tomatoes on the vines and the super hot jalapeños that have turned from green to black, then red.

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I like pickled green jalapeños, but once they turn color on the vines they are much hotter. My husband loves all peppers, the hotter the better. The red ones are just way too hot for me. I usually end up canning two batches so we can both enjoy them.

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Hop flowers take about a week to dry, if you turn and stir them once a day so they dry evenly. Once they are dry, just rubbing the petals will separate them. They are a great addition to my sleepy tea blends and sleep pillows. See the little papery, round flower petals in the photo below? That is my Peace-Out tea blend in the works.

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Our three year old American Elder tree had about 18 clusters of berries this year, but I was only able to harvest two clusters, enough for one batch of fresh syrup. The birds greedily took the rest of them, though they haven’t bothered them in years past. I am wondering if that is a sign of a hard winter ahead.

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Elderberry gummy candies caught my interest this year. There are many recipes online, many of them huge batches, including some with fruit juice or other additions. I wanted to make them as simply and basic as possible, and I didn’t want to waste any of my precious one bottle of syrup on errors. I poured 1/2 cup of syrup in a measuring cup, and sprinkled 1 1/2 Tablespoon of powdered gelatin evenly over the surface. I whisked it in gently and allowed it to dissolve, swell and bloom. It seemed a bit too thick, so I whisked in about 2 Tablespoons of water, and microwaved it for 10 seconds.

The Gummy molds I ordered came with a neat little eyedropper to fill the molds with. I soon realized it would be impossible to fill those little cavities without it!

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That one half cup of syrup was enough to fill almost two molds. I recommend you start with a small amount, too, if you decide to make some yourself. I had to stop and nuke the mixture again after about 10 minutes, because it thickened as it cooled.

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I am pretty happy with the way they turned out. I let them dry a full day on a cutting board after removing them from the molds. So far, they are holding nicely in a jar in my herb cupboard. They are a wee bit sticky, but separate easy enough. It is recommended that they be stored in the refrigerator, but since there was already vodka in the syrup to render it shelf-stable, I decided to push it to see how long they would keep.

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I would make them again, and they are delicious. If you have children, gummy bears would be much easier for little ones to handle than a messy syrup.

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Healing Arnica Salve

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A good friend just had surgery on one of her knees. Arnica to the rescue! I try to make sure I always have dried Arnica Montana or infused Arnica oil in the cupboard.

I made an infusion of dried Arnica Montana with olive oil in a small crockpot just for her, because I know the power of it firsthand from my own surgery a year ago. I have foraged for it fresh before, in higher elevations, but this is the wrong time of the year.

Arnica resolves stuck blood (like bruises), helps reduce swelling and offers some pain relief for trauma or arthritis as well. You can order dried Arnica Montana from online herb suppliers. Two of my favorite suppliers are Mountain Rose Herbs in Oregon and Dandelion Botanicals, in Seattle, WA. I have not been impressed by the Arnica products easily available in the supermarket or drug store. The Arnica in those products must be extremely dilute. I tried many and they did not work.

To make your own oil infusion from dried Arnica:

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Place 1 and 1/8 cup olive oil in a small, 1 quart crock pot. Stir in 1 cup of dried, crumbled Arnica blossoms. Set crock pot to warm or low, and monitor the temperature. Heat, but insure that the temperature does not exceed 130. Turn off crock pot, place a lid on it, and when it cools to room temp, repeat the heating routine 1-2 more times. Allow to sit, covered, overnight.

To make Arnica salve:
Strain the oil through a wire mesh strainer, into a Pyrex 2 cup liquid measuring cup. pressing and squeezing the mash as dry as you can.

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Place the measuring cup on a small rack in a saucepan filled with water that climbs about halfway up the measuring cup of oil. Add 1.25 ounces (weighed) of beeswax pellets or shaved beeswax.

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Heat on low heat, stirring occasionally, to about
156-160 degrees. Beeswax will be transparent or melted altogether. Remove from heat. Ladle into jars or tins on a tray. As you fill them lightly place a lid over each container. Don’t try to secure them. Do not move the tray for at least 2 hours.

Optional: When mixture is 140 degrees, stir in a half teaspoon of Wintergreen essential oil, then immediately ladle into jars. Store in cupboard 2-3 months or in refrigerator for longer shelf life.