Happy Lughnasadh

Elderberries!

July was a hot blur of summer herb and garden crafts, canning and distillation.  Oh, and trying to keep up with crabgrass from outer space.  They have to be as they were three feet in diameter!

I know it is autumn at last,  because the Elderberries are finally ripe.  I’ll make syrup and hard candy lozenges from the berries as they help my family stay healthier.

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Distillation for Mosquito Repellent

 

The distillation above was lemon balm, elder leaf, clary sage, lavender, holy basil and peppermint.  It only produced a little bit of essential oil, which I added back in to the hydrosol.

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The bug spray seems to work rather well!  I added a few drops of Eucalyptus Citridora essential oil to the distillation. Scientific studies recently tested it in comparison to Deet and other leading bug sprays.  They found it as effective against mosquitoes as Deet.  We don’t normally even have a mosquito problem in our area, but this year they are a frequent annoyance.

 

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Crazy Patch Lavender Sachet

I recently planted a flag in one of our spare bedrooms and claimed it for my sewing room.   After years of collecting fat quarters or more of yardage I liked, I have a decent fabric stash, so I plan to dive into it to make coasters, sachets, dream pillows, etc., for upcoming holiday gifts. With just my husband and I at home now, I have discovered being an empty nester does have an advantage or two.

 

An unbelievably big Walla Walla Sweet Onion we grew!

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Homemade diaper balm is a lovely gift for new babies.  If you are familiar with salve making you can easily make it yourself.  It is made of gentle herb infused oil of Calendula, Chamomile, Plantain, Lavender and Rosa Rugosa.  I don’t add any essential oils of any kind, but the scent is of Rose petals, Chamomile and Lavender and bee’s wax.  I will happily share my recipe if anyone wants it!

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This is the first soap I ever made that contains all my own distilled essential oil and hydrosol, and Lavender bud I grew myself.  It smells incredible.  Now, to wait six weeks for it to cure!

 

White Sage and Floral smudge sticks
Sweet Basil

I am so thankful for all of our green friends.  They are adaptable and helpful, no matter what.  (even if you forget to weed around them!)  Calendula, Echinacea,  Hyssop, Horehound, Sage, Lemon Balm, Peppermint and Catnip seem to be growing to a double beat this year.  I just made a second batch of Basil Pesto, and will hang further bundles to dry.  Next up, all kinds of peppers and canning.  What kind of harvest activities are you doing?

Alchemy

Clary Sage blossoms

I just finished my first fresh distillation!  The difference between fresh and dried distillations is like night and day.  Clary Sage was the first plant ready in the herb garden.  It  does not flower until the 2nd year, so I have been waiting for a very long time.  The distillation turned out great, but there were definitely some teaching moments.  Clary Sage is a highly aromatic plant, historically used in perfuming,  love potions, added to cordials or special liquors, and used as a hops substitute in specialty beers.

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Biomass sphere

I learned the hard way to chop this plant outdoors, rather than in my kitchen.  The entire first floor of our home was filled with a cloying, sweet, balsamic scent.  It was a study of too much-ness!  Once I stuffed the biomass sphere with the plant material, the scent became very mild, and almost unnoticeable.

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Clary Sage, at early stage of bloom

Clary Sage has a beautiful presence in the herb garden.  My plants are 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide.  I have heard some plants reach heights of 6 feet!   The flowers first appear as pinkish gray pine cones hanging between the leaves.    Some of the leaves are as big as your hand, and they are aromatic as well.


Steam Distillation equipment heating up

 

Separator

The essential oil and the hydrosol are absolutely wonderful!  The white area in the glass tube above is the essential oil, about 1/3 oz.  It is lighter than water, so it floats at the top.  It is actually a crystal clear oil, but the condenser is cold, so it appears more solid than it will be at room temperature later.  I have two or three more distillations of Clary Sage coming up, and in the end, I should have a little more than an ounce of essential oil and about 5 pints of hydrosol, or flower water.

Hydrosol

Hydrosols are the sweetly aromatic echos of essential plant oil, the life force of the plant.  They can be used instead of plain, distilled water in soaps, creams and lotions, to add scent and healing qualities to the product.   Hydrosol made with healing plants can be used as a wound wash, a healing tub tea, to rinse hair, to hydrate skin, and so much more.  I cannot wait to learn more about it and use it in every way possible.

Still Room Adventures Ahead!

 

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This may prove to be my most magical growing season, ever.

Herbs have been seducing me for over twenty years, beginning as a soap maker. Using a few herbs in my soaps somehow led to growing my own herb garden and making lotions, potions and medicinal remedies for my family. Since I can’t grow every herb I want, I have learned to identify and forage for some herbs in the wild. There are so many dimensions to the plant kingdom that even a lifetime is not enough.

This summer will be filled with mad scientist adventures!  I recently figured out that the process of learning is almost as much fun as the successes are, to me.   I ordered a 2 liter glass Still for my soap making room, which will allow me to make small amounts of steam distilled Essential Oils and Hydrosols from the plants surrounding me. (Once I know what I am doing!) There will be a learning curve to the process of distillation, and I will happily share my mishaps and triumphs in this blog.

Do you steam distill or think you might want to someday?

Perchance To Dream

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Herbal Sleep Pillow

Do you know anyone who has trouble getting to sleep?  A friend has recently had heart surgery and is on a prescription medication regimen.  Her physician advised her against using herbs orally, even mildly relaxing, herbal teas that might possibly interact with the medicine.  Her sleep is often fitful, at best.  I recently made  sleep pillow for her, and the sleepy scent of it has helped her relax enough to drift off to a deeper sleep.

These little sleep pillows are naturally and beautifully scented with organically grown, relaxing herbs.  The finished size is 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ x 1/2″ (or any size you like), and designed to be placed on or next to your regular bed pillow.  Sew an inner liner case of gauzy cotton,  1/2″-3/4″ smaller all around than the outer case.   Fill it with about 1/2 cup of herbs so it easily slips inside the outer cover.  Attach a velcro closure to the liner so the herbs can be replaced and both parts of the pillow can be washed.  If you have a sewing machine, you can make the liner and the pillow case in about 30 minutes.

Relaxing, dried herbal blend

I assembled the above collection of herbs from those I dried at harvest last fall.  They include Rosa rugosa petals, Chamomile, Lavender, Hops and Lemon Balm.  The herbs hold their vibrancy and scent very well if stored in a jar, out of direct light.  Sleep pillows make great gifts for sleepless friends and relatives!

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Rosa rugosa

If you don’t grow herbs yourself, you can purchase them in small amounts from a local, reputable herb store or even order them online.   The dried herbs should be vibrant, recognizable and appear to still contain the life force of the living plant.  Two of my favorite dried herb suppliers are Mountain Rose Herbs or Dandelion Botanical Company, both in the Pacific Northwest.

Fresh, dried hops

Dried hops are only potent for as long as they retain a green hue.  Once they turn tan or brown, they are no longer useful for this purpose.

Are you growing herbs this year?

Provence Lavender

 

Ostara, Spring Equinox!

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Tra-la, it’s finally spring!

We feel really lucky to have a greenhouse. It is not a big one, (8’x10′) and not a new one, but it is just right for us. In 2014 we bought it for almost nothing from friends who didn’t want it, and moved it on a flatbed truck to the field behind our home.  It was a short, but precarious journey at 25 mph on back roads!  Once we got it home, we excavated a 6 inch deep “floor”, lined it with weed cloth and gravel, and secured it with a new foundation.

Last summer  we learned what not to do in a greenhouse, and this year we almost know what we are doing! We celebrated this new season of beginnings by rooting starts of Lavender, Garden Sage, Thyme, Hyssop and Mint from existing plants, and planting many new medicinal herb seeds.

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I made some herb garden scrub soap this week, too, as I am definitely going to need it in the coming months.  What are your spring traditions?

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