A Little Winter Foraging

When we think of foraging these days it’s usually for plants that haven’t been grown with human intervention. But in a broader sense it means to rummage around and find what food there is, e.g,. “I’m going to forage in the kitchen cupboard for a little snack”

brussels sprouts in bowl-1

Brussels sprouts taken off the stalk, waiting to get ready to be cooked.

Recently I was taking a winter’s walk, noting how much snow had disappeared between yesterday’s walk and today’s. I got drawn to an area near the field behind my house where the woods dwindle and there are various dumping spots for vegetation by the maintenance man and the residents who garden. The main pile of garden detritus caught my attention with a couple of stalks of Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts! Big, long stalks with many little green globes attached. Were they really Brussels sprouts, and were they still in good enough shape to eat?

The answer to both questions was yes. Despite heavy snowfalls and the coldest winter we’ve had in a few years, they were in excellent shape. All I had to was pull them off the stalks. I stuffed my jacket pocket with probably a quart of sprouts. I felt so lucky and so blessed!

 I have been trying hard to avoid, as much as possible, eating food grown with chemicals. These sprouts had their start in a commercial nursery, as a tag attested, and my neighbors use Miracle Grow (shudder) but the soil in our little community garden is living and full of earthworms, weeds (can’t be too many chemicals used!), and nutrients.

Nearby, since most of the snow cover is gone, I found the dark, vibrant green leaves of garlic mustard, and plucked a few to add to my soup.

As I was walking away I saw a rosette of sagey-green leaves, looking a little like evening primrose, but both too long-leaved and too long-stalked to be that. Additionally some of the younger leaves were distinctly toothed, which is definitely not a characteristic of evening primrose.

I had to see what it was. I didn’t think it could be anything poisonous (I’ve had enough experience and have enough knowledge of my local plants to make intelligent guesses), so I tasted a leaf. I thought maybe it was in the mustard family, a slight resemblance to chard leaves in the mid-rib, I think. And indeed, it was slightly sweet and yielded that typical mustard family pepperiness. It’s probably a garden escape, perhaps chard, since my neighbors grow that. I’m leaving it and visiting it again, to see how it grows.

In the meantime, I am going to sip my spruce tea, from spruce needles I foraged yesterday, and think about what delights I will encounter on tomorrow’s walk.

Disrespect for Real Food

Perfectly good home-grown squashes in the dumpster. Why would someone put squash in the garbage instead of sharing with others who might want or need this wonderful food?

One of the biggest problems in our society right now is a disregard and disrespect for real food, food that grows from the ground and has to be prepared by our own effort. This due to the ubiquitous availability, for the most part (in the USA), of food, any kind of food, mostly processed food and instafood (mixes, premades, precooked, etc.), but also cosmetically perfect foods raised with chemicals to make them so.

The I see examples of disrespect for real food literally in my own backyard.

Wenham Gold appleI live in a housing development for seniors and the disabled (I am the latter). We are extremely fortunate to have community gardens in the field beyond the last building. Within the community gardens are two old apple trees that were once cared for and produce marvelous apples. Because I don’t know if they are a named variety, I call then Wenham Gold.

Wenham Golds are a yellow-skinned apple, with a delicious taste, good keeping qualities, and a slightly mealy quality when fully ripe. They are excellent for both cooking and eating out-of-hand. They are remarkably insect-free, perhaps because they grow in gardens that attract predators of the invasive apple insects (you know the ones–bite into an apple and there is a worm–ewwww!).

The apple trees produced a bumper crop this year, drifts of apples on the ground, and apples falling from the tree for 2 months. The last apple just fell within the last couple days.

pile of applesNo one from my development showed any interest in these fabulous apples. I am the only one who tried to make inroads into the bounty. Everyone else ignored the gift from Gaia. Yes, the apples are not smooth and shiny; yes, some have bad spots that need cutting away. But overall they are as good any apple you will pay for, and they’re free! And even more importantly, free of unhealthy chemicals. But ignored, loved only by me and the occasional squirrel or raccoon.

Another example that just floored me was the neighbor who threw eleven butternut squashes into the dumpster. She had raised them herself, tending the plants all summer. At the end of the season they sat in a pile in her garden bed. I refrained from taking any, assuming she was saving them for herself.

Then one day I put trash in the communal dumpster and happened to look in (you would be amazed at what people throw out). There were the squashes! We have a community center where residents leave items they don’t want, and share surplus veggies and groceries. The squashes didn’t come into the center to be shared with the residents, they went into the trash! Fortunately for me, when I did my first dumpster dive ever to liberate the squash, there was a quantity of grass to step onto, and a neighbor to hold the squash and give me a hand out.

When we, as a society, have so much perfect-looking, ready-made food so readily available, we forget what a gift real food, grown from living soil and prepared with our own hands, is. We go for the cosmetically perfect produce grown with pesticides and herbicides (chemicals that kill the natural world, and eventually us humans). We go for the food already prepared for us, even though it is full of synthetic chemicals for taste, texture, and appearance, because it is easy and seems to taste good. We ignore or aren’t aware of the fact that this food nourishes neither our body or our spirit.

It is time to start respecting real food. You can start by choosing and eating real food in your home and workplace. Show other people by your example how valuable real food is and how to treat it with respect.

What To Do With Your Autumn Produce and Herbs

September is here and for many of us our gardens are starting to wind down. Much of the main thrust of growing has happened and our annuals are starting to finish their life spans, and our perennials are showing signs of slowing down and having a nice winter nap.

Before we say good-bye to all the fabulous plants of summer and fall, in our gardens and in the wild, let’s take some time to harvest what we can dry or preserve or make into helpful medicines.

marigolds in basketHere are some suggestions for what to do with the late summer and autumn bounty of fruit, vegetables, and herbs:

(Note: I use an Excalibur dehydrator for dehydrating. I believe it is about the best one out there, and worth spending the money to get. If you dehydrate in the oven, it will be at a higher heat than a dehydrator, and will be faster and must be watched carefully.)

Tomatoes: Most people know what to do with extra tomatoes—make sauce! But did you know you can also throw them whole into the freezer and when you take them out, the skins will slip right off and you can make sauce with them when you feel like it? Did you know that you can slice them thinly and dehydrate the slices in a dehydrator or very low oven (no more than 175 degrees F.) and have your own sun-dried tomatoes all winter?

Kale and Similar Greens: If you have an abundance of kale, collards, beet greens, or other similar greens that you don’t want to leave in the garden, you can cook them up (chop it before or after cooking) and freeze it in portions to toss in soup during the winter. Or you can dehydrate then and keep them in a paper or plastic bag. Since I don’t have much freezer space, this is my favorite thing to do, as dehydrated fruits and veggies take up relatively little space.

Carrots: They can be sliced and dehydrated. Fabulous in winter dishes!

Apples: If the apples are in decent shape I leave the peels on and just core them, then slice them thinly and dehydrate. If in less good shape, I do peel them. Another great thing to do with apples is core and cut out any bad parts and cook them until very soft. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and put in the blender for a fabulous apple sauce. Or cook further to make apple butter (for apple butter you may want to peel the apples first).

I rehydrate my dried apples and use them in desserts during the winter.

 Winter Squashes (Hubbard, Butternut, etc.): If you don’t have room to store your winter squashes, you can actually dehydrate them! I cut them in half, usually lengthwise, plp them cut side down on a cookie sheet—as many halves as possible on a sheet, and cook them at 350 degrees F. until a fork stuck in them goes in easily. When cool, I scoop out the seeds, which can be dried and eaten or composted, and scoop out the flesh. I use a blender or food processor to make a puree out of the squash, and them spread it thinly on baking sheets to dehydrate. The fewer the lumps, the more quicker the dehydrating. I then take the sheets of dried squash and store it in paper bags or glass jars. I love squash soup and squash pudding, so it gets used up quickly.

Herbs: Many herbs are very easy to cut near the ground, gather into small bundles, and hang to air dry. You can then strip the leaves off of the stems and keep the herbs in paper bags or glass jars (plastic is fine if you want to use it).
If you have any herbs whose roots you are drying, chop the roots up first and then spread them on a plate of wicker paper plate holder to dry. If you wait until the roots dry before doing any chopping you may find the roots too tough to cut.

 Basil, Oregano, Mints, Garden Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Lemon Balm, etc.: Even if your basil, oregano, or mints have gone to bloom, you can still harvest, dry, and use them. Why? Because the flowers of all of them are edible, and are fine to use in your cooking or your teas. Drying any of your herbs and using them in your cooking will give you far more flavorful results than anything you buy already dried at the store. If you don’t grow your own, buy herbs at the farmers market to dry and use during the winter. You will be thrilled with yourself for doing so.

A note about Rosemary: If you live in zone 6 or colder in the United States and you hope your rosemary will stay alive outside over the winter, it won’t (though there are rare exceptions, you are probably not one of them). Unless you can bring it in and give it the right care to keep it alive, just cut all the branches off and dry them for fabulous rosemary seasoning all winter.

 A Pesto Note: You can also make pesto with your extra basil (include the flowers if they’re there, I always do) and freeze it in cubes or small quantities. You can add other herbs to your pesto if you like to change or enhance the flavors. I believe parsley is a good herb to include in your pesto, and one solution to the extra sitting in your garden.

Chives and Parsley: I am not a big parsley fan, and I use only my chives in the summer, so I haven’t tried preserving them. But from what I have read, both parsley and chives can lose most of their taste if just air-dried. Apparently, you are much better off chopping them up, spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet, freezing in the freezer, and then putting them in a container in the freezer until you need them. You will get much more flavor this way. You can also use this method with other of your culinary herbs.

Roots of Dandelions, Burdock, etc.: If you want to harvest the roots of these edible/medicinal plants for medicinal use, wait until October at least. You want the plant to have started to die back so that the energy is going back into the roots for the winter. This will give you the most nutrients and constituents for health that you want for your medicines and health. Remember to chop them up before drying.

Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis

Evening Primrose–Oenothera biennis

Evening Primrose: This marvelous native plant gives us several wonderful foods in autumn and even winter, depending on the snow cover and how frozen the ground is. Most people are familiar with sight of the seed pods. Contained within the pods are many tiny little seeds that can be shelled out and used in your baking and soups. When you see how tiny the seeds are, you will understand why evening primrose oil is so expensive! In autumn and through into spring, the roots of the first-year plants are edible, with a sharp peppery taste that comes through even after cooking. The roots can be eaten raw or cooked into soups and stir-fries, or used in winter root veggie medleys. The rosettes of leaves that crown the first year roots are also edible, again with a peppery taste, and can be eaten raw mixed into salads or cooked into soups and stir-fries. I find them a bit too strong on their own, so I prefer to mix them with other greens or ingredients.

Thirst and Rehydration

dry herbs for infusion in quart jar

Dry herbs ready to be infused

Did you know that by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated? That may not be so bad during a normal day, but if you are doing something vigorous outside on a hot summer’s day, you can easily become very dehydrated and get seriously ill if you aren’t paying attention to your body and what it needs.

This was brought home to me very forcefully several years ago when I got a bad case of heat exhaustion while gardening on a very hot day. I wore a hat and drank lots of water, but after a few hours I was nauseous and vomiting and, unable to drive home, had to stay with friends overnight. This was the first time that I had any inkling that it takes more than just water to keep you properly hydrated.

Summer is the time when we most often think about dehydration and find we need to rehydrate, so for this midst-of-summer article I thought I would share a few tips on staying hydrated and why it’s so important. The research was far more fascinating than I expected. I didn’t know how important the proper balance of electrolytes is, or what a hugely important role electrolytes play in our body.

Electrolytes are elements and include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, as well as a couple others. They are distributed throughout our bodies, both inside and outside our cells. They help maintain the proper fluid balance and pressure between the inside and the outside of cells, regulate blood pH, and are critical for the functioning of nerves and muscles.

Rehydrating and making sure we stay adequately hydrated are more complex than just drinking a lot of water. They also have to do with electrolytes and their balance in our bodies.

Dehydration (and overhydration—yes, you can drink too much water!) can cause electrolyte imbalances that can be severe enough to cause medical emergencies, and even death. It turns out that they are nothing to mess around with, or ignore.

When you are dehydrated, in other words, you have lost more fluids from your body than you have replaced in a timely manner, you need to replace the fluids that have been lost. However, simply drinking a lot of water will not give your body what it needs.

If you just replace water, then you increase the volume of fluids in your body without the requisite elements needed to keep them in balance and mild to severe symptoms can result. Therefore, you need to replace both water and electrolytes.

Fortunately, replacing electrolytes is quite simple, and even somewhat tasty at times.

Suggestions for good fluids for replacing electrolytes include coconut water (the fluid in the middle of young and ripe coconuts), fruit juices (real fruit juice, not fruit drinks or ades), milk and whey, and many fruits and vegetables (whole or in juice form) such as potatoes and avocados. This must be why we have so many fruits that ripen in the summer—to help us stay hydrated!

I hesitate to suggest sports drinks, as they are full of artificial flavors and colors, and my also be so sweet that they can upset your body’s balance.

So on hot days, or when you are doing a lot of physical activity, don’t forget to drink your electrolytes! Start before you even feel thirsty and continue to hydrate with electrolytes and water. You and your body will be very glad you did!

In the recipes below sugar is included. It actually helps your body absorb the salt better! Raw sugars also contain some potassium.

A very simple formula for a rehydrating drink has been formulated by the World Health Organization (WHO):
Recipe for ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts)
3 to 6 level Tablespoons of sugar
½ level teaspoon of salt
1 liter of clean water—about 1 quart plus ½ cup
Mix and drink.
Note: Molasses and raw sugars can be used that will give more potassium than refined sugar.

Rehydrationade Drink
(This is a recipe I was given and there are variations to be found on the internet and elsewhere.)
To a full 1 quart jar of clean water add:
1/3 spoon of sea salt I assume it is 1/3 of regular teaspoon)
1 spoon of sugar
Big ol’ drop of molasses
Lemon wedge (squeeze the juice into your mixture)
Shake well and drink.

More suggestions from Wikipedia: “You can add a bit of salt to your coconut water or fruit juice to help get the salts your body needs.. This includes salted rice water, salted yogurt drink, and salted vegetable or chicken soup….And a medium amount of salt can also be added to water in which cereal has been cooked, unsalted soup, green coconut water, unsweetened weak tea, and unsweetened fruit juice. The homemade solution should have the ‘taste of tears.’ If available, supplemental zinc and potassium can be added to or given with the homemade solution.”

Sources for this article were Wikipedia and the Rehydrate.org site.

Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolyte





Cold Weather Favorites: Hot Cocoa, Ginger Tea, Squash Pudding, and More

It feels like winter is advancing, and I am thinking about my favorite responses to cold weather, colds and flus, and the winter grumps.

As some of you know, I’ve struggled with depression for years, and it’s usually worst around early winter. An odd aspect of depression for me is not just losing my appetite, but basically only being able to eat soft or fluidy foods. Rather than fighting this (too often) I’ve figured out some things that I can eat and drink with ease and pleasure.

brown cartoon cupSo I am sharing the recipes for some of my favorite hot drinks that can chase away both the cold and the blues. Some are loved by many, such as Hot Cocoa and Ginger Tea. Since I have always loved puddings and make winter squash pudding a lot in the winter, I am including a variation that takes it up a notch towards cheesecake (another love of mine).

Comforting Hot Chocolate

Years ago a friend gave me a tin of gourmet cocoa, and hot chocolate became my comfort drink. With a bit of experimentation I learned how to make a really fine cup of hot chocolate.

1 cup (large or small, depending on your taste) whole milk

1 rounded teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder (Equal Exchange or a gourmet type)

2 rounded teaspoons sugar

Heat the milk over medium heat in a pot on the stove. Put the sugar and cocoa in your mug and blend them together with a spoon (this allows them to dissolve more completely and evenly in your milk. The more blended they are, the fewer lumps.) Pour the milk, heated to just below boiling (or boiling over if you’re like me) into the mug with the cocoa-sugar mixture and stir briskly. Press any lumps of cocoa against the side of your mug with your spoon.

To make this even better, add a few marshmallows, a bit of whipped cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon or stir with a cinnamon stick. Now, enjoy!

Hot Ginger-Lemon Tea

I found this recipe in my local paper and adapted it slightly. The author said it’s fabulous for kicking a cold in the rear, and it certainly seems to be. It’s also a great warming drink.

1 large mug of boiling water

2 tablespoons grated or finely minced fresh ginger

fresh squeezed or bottled lemon juice


Tabasco or similar hot sauce (optional)


Fresh ginger root

Grate the ginger on the coarsest holes of a grater, or mince. Fresh ginger is infinitely superior to dried, ground ginger, and easily found at most grocery stores. Place ginger in a large mug and fill the mug with boiling-hot water. Let it steep, covered with a saucer, for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain out the ginger. Add lemon juice to taste, and sweeten to taste with honey. Add the hot sauce if you’re so inclined.

Spiced Apple Cider

Another warming drink for this time of year is mulled apple cider. I’ve never quite figured out exactly what you do to make cider “mulled,” but I’ve come up with a simple version of spicy warm cider.

2 cups apple cider (not juice)

cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon

fresh nutmeg or ground nutmeg

Heat the apple cider on the stove or in the microwave. Pour into two mugs, sprinkle a touch of nutmeg on top (fabulous if you grate it yourself) and either stir with a cinnamon stick or sprinkle on a bit of ground cinnamon. This is spicy and warming. Hot apple cider is both sweeter and thinner than when it is cold, so it is a pleasant change from the thirst-quenching cold stuff.

Yummy Eggnog

3 ½ cups whole milk

½ cup cream—light or heavy

3 large or 4 medium eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon rum flavoring or 2 tablespoons dark rum

Whipped cream (optional)

(To make a half-recipe: cut recipe in half, but use 2 eggs.)

cinnamon sticks

Cinnamon sticks

Thoroughly beat the eggs before combining them with the milk, cream, and sugar in a large pot. Heat the eggnog for a few minutes, until it becomes too hot to the touch when you quickly insert your finger. (Note: It is important to heat this eggy drink sufficiently if using store-bought eggs, since salmonella in raw eggs is becoming more widespread.)

Remove eggnog from heat and stir in vanilla and rum flavoring. Give the drink another good stir to blend it well. Let cool in the fridge for a few hours before drinking.

As with the hot cider, eggnog is delicious with a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg on top, and/or a bit of powdered cinnamon. A bit of whipped cream on top is heavenly, also.

Winter Squash Cheesecake Pudding

1 ½ cup cooked winter squash (1 or more: acorn, butternut, buttercup, etc.)

1 ½ cup farmer’s or yoghurt cheese (soft, cottage-cheesy homemade cheeses)*

1 cup organic sugar

4 large eggs

1 T. vanilla extract

1 t. cinnamon

¼ t. ground ginger

¼ t. ground nutmeg

1/8 t. sea salt

Optional: ½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl combine eggs and sugar, and beat until well-combined and light in color. Add remaining ingredients, except nuts, and beat until until well mixed. Grease an 8” or 9” square or round baking dish, and pour pudding in. Top with chopped nuts if desired.

Have a larger oven-proof baking dish that is filled about half-full with hot water. Place in the oven on a middle shelf, than place the pudding dish in the bain marie (water bath)

Bake 1 hour. Top of pudding should be cracked. A toothpick stuck in may not come out clean, but the pudding will be done after setting for a few minutes after coming out of the oven.

Serve hot or cold, with whipped cream if you like. Yum!

Alternatives: if you don’t have farmer’s or yoghurt cheese, you can try these (untried by me) suggestions: Blend cottage cheese until it’s smooth. You may want to strain out excess liquid first.

Mix a package or 2 of cream cheese with heavy cream to desired consistency and amount.  You do want the cheese to be quite thick, not runny.

O.k., now go find a good dvd to watch or book to read, snuggle on the couch or in bed, and sip your delicious drink. Movies, books and magazines are always better enjoyed with a hot cup of something. A warm body next to you is a lovely addition, be it human, feline, canine, or any other version you have around.  Stay warm, and enjoy the season!

Autumn Herbs—Teas, Infusions, and Mixes

herb cupboard

Some of my dried herbs

Last month I talked about gathering and drying or otherwise preserving the herbs from your garden, the farmer’s market, or the woods and fields around you (Herbs in Autumn).

This month we’ll see what you can do with those wonderful herbs, now that they are neatly put away and labeled. Or maybe still hanging in bunches in your kitchen? Maybe sitting in baskets here and there, already dry, but not out sight yet. My herbs are in all of these stages. Sometimes a bunch or three of herbs will hang on my drying rack through the whole winter!

One of my favorite ways of using herbs is to make teas and infusions for myself and guests. Infusions are, to me, much stronger versions of teas, and the herbal “teas” I make for guests usually fall somewhere between what I call a tea and an infusion.

Teas: Making herbal teas is fun! Don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations of various herbs you like and try different amounts mixed together. When it comes to taste, there is no right or wrong, only what delights your mouth and your senses.

In my experience, using a good quantity of herbs for your tea makes for a better tasting brew. If you think herb teas are insipid and weak, then you probably have not been using nearly enough herb matter for a cup of tea. Use more! The taste will be surprisingly robust and may truly change your mind (or your friends’) about what an herbal tea can be.

Generally, the proportion of herb to water for tea is to use about a tablespoon of dry herb to a cup of boiling water. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, cover (to keep in the essential oils and other good stuff) let steep for 15 minutes, then uncover and sip. You can add sugar, honey, maple syrup, or stevia for sweetening, and/or milk of your choice. Enjoy!

Here are 3 recipes I have come up with:

Restorative Tea

1 part sage

1 part rosemary

4 parts lemon balm

1 part bee balm

1 part lavender flowers (optional)

Black Tea Mimicry

5 parts raspberry and/or blackberry leaves

1 part sage

Don’t let this steep for more than 5 or 10 minutes, as the tannins can become too bitter.

Lemon Delight

2 parts lemon balm

2 parts lemon verbena

1 part lemon grass

1 part orange mint (optional)

Infusions: An infusion is made by soaking plant material (usually dried) in water that has been brought to a boil. The infusion steeps anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours, depending on the plant material being infused. Boiling water must be used to break open the cell walls of the plant to allow them to release their constituents.

Amounts: For all parts of a plant, except roots and bark, the proportion is 1 ounce of dried plant material to 1 quart of boiling water. For roots and bark, it is 1 ounce of plant material to one pint of boiling water.

Steeping  times: General guidelines for how long to let your infusions steep is: roots and barks—8 hours, leaves and stems—4 hours, flowers—2 hours maximum, seeds and berries—1/2 hour maximum. The point of the long soakings is to get as much as you can from the plant material. The point of the short soakings is to prevent constituents that you don’t want in your infusion from getting drawn out.

If you don’t have a scale, don’t worry about it, approximate amounts are fine. A handful or so will equal sort-of an ounce.

Containers for steeping in: It is easiest to use a quart jar or pint jar, such as a canning or spaghetti jar, with a lid. Put the plant material into the jar, fill it with boiling water, put the lid on loosely, and allow to steep. The lid needs to be kept on to keep volatile constituents from escaping. You can also use a cooking pot or pan that has a lid.

Usually it’s best to infuse one herb at a time. If infusing an herb blend, infuse for the time needed for the ingredient that gets infused for the shortest time. For instance, if you’re infusing a blend that includes anise seeds or hawthorn berries, even if it includes roots, you will only let it sit for ½ hour. If you’re using a blend that includes chamomile flowers, you’ll only let it sit for 2 hours, and so forth.

However, I don’t worry too much about being exact when I am steeping an infusion, and often mine sit for hours before I get to them.

Infusions can be drunk warm or cold. If you’ve let it steep for several hours, you can warm it up on the stove or (shudder) in the microwave.

Infusions are easy to take with you in their jars, strained or not. They only last about 24 to 36 hours, even with refrigeration, so plan on making fresh infusions every day or two. If it starts smelling or tasting off, let it go—give it the plants, indoors or out.

Herbal Blends for Seasoning:  What is better in fall and winter than recently dried herbs with their rich goodness still intact to add to stews and soups, casseroles, and all sorts of dishes?!

You can use one herb, or several; follow a recipe to make an herbal blend or make your own. If, like me, you’ve always liked Bell’s Seasoning on your turkey or in your lentil soup, then look at the box and make up your own version.

Here is a recipe from an unknown source, one version of making the classic “herbes de Provence”:

Herbes de Provence (this is just one variation of many for herbes de Provence)

1 ¼ cup dried thyme

1 ¼  cup dried basil

¼ cup dried summer savory

1 cup dried rosemary

¼ cup dried lavender flowers (organic if possible)

¼  cup fennel seeds

Combine all herbs in a large bowl and stir well to blend. Store in a tightly-capped jar, or divide into ½ cup portions and store in sealed plastic baggies—these make great gifts placed in small clay flowerpots and tied with a ribbon.

This herb blend is good for sprinkling over vegetables or meats prior to roasting. They also are a flavorful addition to soups and stews.

Herb Salts Herb salts are fun and easy. All you have to do is mix your herb or herbs with some delicious salt, for instance, a good sea salt.

You can mix in the herbs fairly whole, which will you give you a rather coarse seasoning. Or you can grind up your herb/s in a coffee grinder and have them mix more smoothly with the salt.

Either way, play around with proportions. Go half-and-half with salt and herb, or ¾ herb and ¼ salt, or the reverse. Just remember to have fun and that if you like the taste, you’ll use it! It’s a great way to get luscious taste and good nutrition in one easy bite.

Herbs in Autumn

Echinacea (Echinacea sp)

Echinacea (Echinacea sp)

Yummy herbal teas! Intensely flavored herbal additions to your stews and breads, and maybe the Thanksgiving turkey! Oh yeah, sounds soooo good.

 Well, the place to look is your own or a friend’s garden or the local farmer’s market. Drying and storing herbs for your use is simple and gives you a wonderful feeling when you’re using them in your teas and your cooking, plus they taste tons better than anything you buy in the store!

At this time of year, as summer ends and autumn starts the count-down to winter, our herb plants are starting to go into their last hurrah for the season. If they’re annuals, they are blooming and setting seed, making sure they’ll have babies before they kick off. If they’re perennials, they may just now be blooming, setting seed for a new batch of plants beyond where they already live, or they may be thinking about tucking up their roots for the winter and slowing down their growth, getting ready to shed their leaves.

So before those plants bite the dust, it’s time to harvest them and have them ready for winter use.

If you have your own garden, you can pick what you like and put it to dry. Basil is great to dry, and its flowers are edible. You can take a whole plant out by its roots, chop them and any ugly leaves off, and hang it to dry.

Perennial herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and mints can also be harvested. If they are blooming, the flowers are also edible and can be included in what you dry.

If you’ve been growing nasturtiums, not only do you want to save a few seeds for next year, but you can dry the buds, flowers, and leaves for teas and soups, or put the flowers and/or seed into vinegar.

If you don’t have access to a garden, many vendors at farmers markets are selling herbs. A big bunch of basil will make marvelous pesto, but maybe more than you need right now, so dry the rest. Any other herbs you can find, grab them and dry them.

There are, however, 2 exceptions to the drying rule. Parsley and chives lose much of their “oomph” and taste when they dry, so the best way to retain their goodness is to freeze them. Snip your parsley or chives into small pieces, spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and put them in the freezer. When they are all frozen, simply put the frozen herb pieces into a jar, plastic container, or plastic baggie, label!, and keep in the freezer. You’ll be ale to scoop out what you want when you need it.

Now you may be wondering how to dry your herbs. Over the years I have found many ways to let them air dry, here are a couple:

  • Put your herbs on a plate, a wicker paper plate holder (I found mine at yard sales), or a basket. Make sure that your herbs are in fairly single layer, or spread apart. If they hunch on top of each other, they will mold or dry unattractively brown. You can leave the leaves on the stems and strip them off when they are dry, or take the leaves off first, and spread to dry.
  • Hang your herbs in small bunches to dry. You can gather a few stems of herb together and tie them together with a piece of string, or use a rubber band wrapped around them a few times. You can hang your bunches from pegs, like coat hook pegs, from pegs on a peg board, from beams in the attack, or from a clothes hanger. The clothes hanger can be hung anywhere you can find, and the herb bunches can be hooked on using unbent paper clips.

When your herbs are thoroughly dry, you can strip them off the stems, if you didn’t do this previously, and store them in a glass jar (my favorite way) or in paper bags. Some people use plastic bags, which is fine, but I prefer to avoid plastic when I can. I try not to crumble them too much when storing, preferring to do the crumbling just before I use them. They retain more of their flavor and goodness that way.

Label you herbs! You may think you will remember what they are, but they can look really different dried than fresh, and one dry herb can look remarkably like another. I am speaking from long experience here!

For the herbs you will use in cooking, get some pretty bottles or small jars, attach pretty labels, and keep with your herbs and spices. You will be amazed at how good they taste in your cooking, salad dressings, and more.

Next month we’ll look at some of the other ways you can use your freshly, deliciously  dried herbs.

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Stock/Broth

Do you have bouillon cubes sitting in your kitchen cupboards? Do you actually use them? When you do, are they all gooey and sticking to the foil, and looking a little icky?

You should know that there is usually a lot of salt and unfermented soy in those cubes, as well as artificial flavors and maybe even colors (sorry, I haven’t looked at them in a long while). I stopped using them several years ago, and now make my own stock or broth to use in soups and for cooking grains, beans, and so on. Sure, it takes some work, but I love the results of what I make and have enough to last a couple weeks or more, depending on how much I’ve made and how quickly I use it up.

This all started with Bone Broth, well-loved by many people who are eating more traditional, nutrient-dense and nutritious diets. Bone broth is made with a couple pounds of bones and whatever vegetable bits you have saved, and is very wonderful.

My version has evolved as I never seem to be able to afford a really large quantity of bones, and I always seem to have a lot plant matter around, courtesy of my herb and plant work. I also have egg shells from my farm-raised eggs and save them to include in the broth. So now my broth includes a few bones, some shells, and a goodly amount of plants. The recipe is below, along with a couple of ideas about collecting the materials for your stock/broth.

To begin with—the bones. You don’t have to include them if you’re vegetarian or vegan. But if you are omnivorous, like me, then it’s great to include some. Any bones that you have, either saved from what you’ve already cooked, or bought at the store for this purpose. If you have to accumulate them over a few days or weeks, toss them in a bag or jar in the freezer until you need them.

The eggshells. These should be from organic eggs, if possible. Farm-raised is even better. You can save your shells in a basket or pot somewhere to one side of your kitchen. Don’t worry about rinsing them, they dry just fine without any smell or rotting. Crush them up to save room.

Here’s the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink part—all the veggie, herb, and plant bits and pieces and handfuls and bagfuls that you’ve been saving for your wonderful stock!

When you are chopping, trimming, etc. vegetables, all the end parts that you’d normally throw in the trash or compost are put in a bag or jar in the freezer till later. Carrot ends, onion skins, dried out garlic bulbs, celery stubs, asparagus butts, kale stalks, etc. Too tough to eat, but not too tough to stew!

You can add herbs and healthy, ingestible plants as well. If you’re stripping herbs off of stems, save the stems. Have some extra herbs from the farmer’s market or a neighbor? Toss ‘em in.

Include your “weedings” from when you’re weeding your garden and hate to throw out all those dandelions and plantain and other “weeds” that threaten to take over. You can also wildcraft them or ask a neighbor if you can have theirs, or go to a farm or a farmers market to find some of these plants. The point is to find them and use them. They will add new levels of taste and nutrition to your stock.

Here are some suggestions: dandelions leaves and roots, burdock leaves and roots, goosefoot or lamb’s quarters leaves and stems, amaranth leaves and stems, yellow dock leaves and roots, plantain (the weedy plant, not the banana) leaves and seed stalks, evening primrose leaves and roots, nettles, wild lettuce leaves, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), the tough stalks from flowering onions, garlic, and chives.

Play around to see what you like the taste of and what you don’t. I am finding that a lot of plantain makes for a more bitter stock, and also is slightly laxative, so probably it should be kept to ¼ cup or so. Yellow dock roots can also be slightly laxative, so use just a few small pieces.

If you are unsure if a plant is safe or not, err on the side of caution. Especially if you are not really familiar with your weeds, it is better not to take chances. A good motto is: When in doubt—don’t!

You also add vinegar. The acidic vinegar will pull out calcium from the bones and eggshells and help pull out minerals from the plants as well. Combined with the fat from bones, if you use them, this will make the minerals and fat soluble vitamins very available and easily absorbed for excellent nutrition.

Use this stock for cooking rice, beans, veggies, or as the starting point for soup. You can also heat it up, add a bit of salt (and cream if you like) and have a lovely, nutritious tonic drink.

So here’s the recipe, with approximate measurements. Don’t worry if you use more or less of anything, it will work!

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Stock/Broth

1 to 2 gallons water (filtered if possible)
1 to 2 lbs. bones (chicken, beef, marrow, etc.)
As many eggshells as you’ve got
1 to 4 or 5 cups veggie trimmings, herbs, wild plants—fresh or dried or frozen
¼ cup vinegar—apple cider, red wine, home-made, etc.

Put all your ingredients in a large pot, bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 24 to 48 hours. When it is done, or you can’t stand having that large pot on your stove anymore, you can put the stock in spaghetti or canning jars and the stock will stay good in the fridge for several weeks. Or you can freeze your stock, and pull it out as you need it. Make sure to keep the wonderful fat in your stock. Your body needs it!