The herbal harvest is done for the year, and my herb cabinet is positively stuffed with every herb I will need to keep my family healthy this coming winter.
My kitchen turned into a stillroom today while I blended teas, made syrup and a tonic or two. It felt so good to be making herbal preparations for winter. The full Blood Moon is shining its radiant energy straight into my kitchen and herb cabinet as I am finishing up the last tea blend. I am so happy it is fall!
I grew or foraged and dried a lot of the herbs in the bowl myself, and those I couldn’t I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs, my favorite herb supplier. I know they are healthy, natural and wholesome, which a remedy ought to be, don’t you think?
As I combine herbs for a remedy, I hold intentions of healing energy and my memories of the day I gathered the herbs surface. It’s funny how I do usually emotionally remember the exact blue skies and sunshine, the heat or storm clouds, the Dragonfly that buzzed by me, my contentment, the fullness of summer or the relief of rain while harvesting herbs I grew.
In some ways I feel bonded to my plants and sense when they are thirsty or suffering from encroachment. I believe that all the above affects the herbs and their ability to carry out their purpose, to heal. I’ve come to believe that the plant and the herbalist or grower share a fundamental alchemy that all plays into the efficacy of the eventual remedy. Thoughts?
Trying to keep up with all the medicinal herbs we grow has proven to be a daily challenge, and they are still ahead of me, so far.
Rosa Rugosa is a spectacular rambling rose that will take over a corner of your garden in just one season. The scent is everything a rose should be. It blooms heavily every late spring or early summer, every day for several weeks, then slows down to just the occasional, odd bloom for a little while longer. Gather the flower heads only, do not cut them. The petals dry quickly in baskets, and infused in honey, offer burn or wound care. I add them to teas, potpourri’s, or infuse them in oils used in creams or lotions. In the fall you’ll be rewarded with plump rose hips. I gathered a half gallon of (dried) petals this season!
We grow Lavender, Calendula, Echinacea, Elder, Rosa Rugosa, Oregon Grape, Yarrow, Hawthorn, Holy Basil, White Sage, Mint, Anise Hyssop, Hops, Oregano, Horehound, Arnica, and Elecampane, currently.
Our veggie garden includes Roja Garlic, Poblano, Jalapeño and Cayenne peppers, Roma tomatoes, slicing Tomatoes, Collards, Green Beans, Green onions, Cilantro, Genovese Basil and Rainbow carrots.
Tom built two raised beds for me this year, for strawberries and culinary herbs. Weeding them, and keeping up with them is so easy, compared to ground level. I’m not sure why we didn’t build them years ago. I highly recommend them.
We lost four mature Grosso Lavender plants over the winter. We began the layering process to clone new Lavender plants last year, as we knew several of the mature plants were reaching the end of their growing life. They were at least eight years old, and they generally start deteriorating after about 5 years. We currently have eight large Grosso plants and five-gallon sized plants. That is plenty for all my Lavender projects including distillation, with extra to share.
I love to weave Lavender wands. The first one is a little tricky, but once you get the hang of it, they are addictive. I grow Grosso Lavender because it has the longest stems, and the flowers stay on the stems better than some varieties. The first step is to cut stems as long as possible and trim them to roughly equal length.
Wands require an odd number of stems. I have tried thirteen and fifteen, but my favorite wands are those made with seventeen stems of Lavender. The photo below is the start of a thirteen stem wand. It is easier to work with fewer stems when you are just learning.
Tie a 30 -36″ ribbon tightly just below the flowers, leaving one long tail and one very short. Invert the cluster of stems so the stems are on top, forming a sort of umbrella cage around the flowers. The short end of the ribbon will tuck into the cage of stems and disappear. Weave the ribbon over and under the stems. After you finish a round, use a toothpick to push the woven ribbon as high as it will go. Then weave another round. The tension on the ribbon determines the shape of your wand, so I begin by snugging the ribbon tightly while weaving the top, weave more loosely around the middle, and pull snugly again towards the bottom. There are many great detailed tutorials on the web if you want to try to make one.
Lavender wands were a popular Victorian herbal craft, and they make unique hostess gifts. I like to hang them in closets, tuck them into lingerie drawers, or put them in a bud vase. The scent of the flowers will last at least a year, and can be refreshed with a drop or two of essential oil if desired.
Echinacea Purpurea is just plain beautiful, and the entire plant is used medicinally.
To dry Echinacea, first pull off the petals. Use kitchen shears to cut the seed head into several pieces while it is still soft and fresh. Split the stems lengthwise with a sharp knife or razor blade, then snip into small pieces with scissors.
Calendula is another herbal staple. The flowers reseed themselves every spring, so I always end up with too many plants no matter how many I give away. The flowers are abundant, resinous, and need cutting every other day. They are wonderful for wound care, skin care, in salves, soaps, creams and lotions, in teas and tinctures.
I dry Calendula flower heads on baskets. They darken to a deep, rust orange when fully dried. Use the entire flower head for remedies, rather than just the petals. Most of the healing resin is inside.
The memories of gathering herbs under a sweltering sun warms me on cold, gray winter days as I add them into remedies. The penetrating heat of the sun is drawn straight into the medicines I make. Visualization, emotions, and memory are vital, magical elements in herbal healing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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