Thursday, April 24, 2008


The smells of spring....freshly mown grass, and newly turned earth. Every year, I can't wait to get started on new gardens. Ideas that have been turning over in my head, pages torn out of magazines, and baby plants just itching to get out of their pots, are all waiting until this weekend to get the new gardening season started. When we were small and put more food on our plates than we could ever eat, my mother would say our"eyes were bigger than our stomach". Well, this is usually what happens to me and my garden plans. But this year, I know my limits. I will need to start a new herb garden, but since I am not much of a cook, I am planting herbs that I can use to make teas, or my bath products. Lavender, lemon balm, calendula, comfrey, catnip, spearmint, peppermint, roses, and a few other herbs will go into the garden. Vegetables will only be enough we can eat, or give away. No zuchinni this year. I never got around to making that zuchinni bread and could not give it away. The green onions have already been planted, and are about ready to eat. The potatoes are poking their green leaves up, and will make great small red potatoes. Tomato plants will be planted, and I can already tastes those great fried green tomatoes. We are trying cantalopes this year, so I need to research the best way to grow those. I actually took the advice of some of those HGTV garden shows, and have planned out my gardens on paper. Hope everyone is anticipating a great gardening year, and looking forward to a great harvest.

Monday, April 14, 2008

First Walk in the Woods - April '08

I have been wanting to visit the woods for over a week now, but things kept getting in the way. Getting the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal mailed out was one of them, amidst an avalanche of others. Over the weekend when we were traveling to and fro, I noticed that marsh marigolds and something that *might* have been dutchman's breeches were catching my glance while we whipped along on the back roads.
So this morning after doing a few necessary things, I donned my hoodie and sneakers and grabbed the camera, past the pond with the mallards and frogs jumping at my approach, and headed into the woods.
The area was rich with natives when my sister and her husband bought it, and since that time we've been adding a little here and there. In the spring, I feel like a mother checking on her sleeping babes. Sometimes I'll gently pull back some leaf cover to take a peek at what's going on underneath. This year that wasn't necessary, as things are getting into full gear without my nudgings (as they always would - I'm just to anxious to wait sometimes).
I was a little surprised to see the hepatica blooming all along the hillside across the stream. It took me about 30 seconds to get my feet wet and get the first splashes of mud up the back of my jeans. After all the rain we've had, another surprise was finding the stream shallow, but much wider. Last year I waited about a week too long and missed all but a few blossoms. The foliage is stunning too, but the flowers! Sigh....
Everywhere the jewelweed was starting to push up the first sets of leaves. It is easy to spot once you know it. The leaves are almost a blue-ish green, with a pale cast. In another couple of weeks there will be plenty for fresh soapmaking, but fortunately we stored plenty in the freezer so we'd have a good supply cured for the spring shows and wholesale orders.
The Mayapples are just starting to come up. The way they erupt from the ground is almost prehistoric to me. Little knobs pop up, and then get taller, finally opening up like an umbrella. If you look closely at the picture, you can see several stages of unfurling going on.
Next up was one of the trillium patches. Every year I try to add another plant or two in a different spot. This year I'd like to put them across the creek, where they would probably naturalize better. That bank hosts the most diverse plant life, so it probably would be a better (if more difficult to reach) home. These are my pet project. The clumps keep growing and it just fills my heart with joy to see them.
It would seem likely that sweet violets would be growing like crazy down there, but such is not the case. Only on the path where we walk do they grow. Not in large clumps, either... but single little plants glistening among the leaves from last fall. This year I did notice one area with a good colony. It just happens to be in the one area where we don't stick around long. There is a tree that has fallen against another, leaning precariously above the pathway for several years now. Right beneath that fall zone is a healthy group of violets, more than I've ever seen before. Made me smile to think that they are teasing me there.

The spotted, smooth foliage of the trout lily, or dog-toothed violet is everywhere, carpeting the entire woodland. Only 2 were blooming this morning. Each year the first to bloom are at the base of a particular tree, nestled in amongst the roots of the tree. I always know that if they are blooming, that will be the place to find them. Sure enough, there they were, blooming several days ahead of the rest. In another week, the forest will be alive with these glorious beauties.
Wonder of wonder, the dutchman's breeches came back again. It took me a while to find them, as a tree had fallen down the bank and obscured them from my view. But all of the clumps we put in two years ago have come back. Only one of them was blooming, and I am hoping that we were early. We're thinking of squeezing in a trip to Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve later this week. They should be rampant there! Another week would probably be better, and we'd see more if we waited.

We put in two different varieties of wild ginger. The first is shiny, glossy, beautiful leathery leaves. This patch is several feet in diameter, and while the deer seem to enjoy munching on it, the plant doesn't appear to be any worse the wear. There were a few blooms under the leaves, but they are small and point towards the earth, making them difficult to see, much less photograph with a Kodak Easyshare.
The second variety has a little bit of fuzz to the leaf, and the tips of the leaves are more pointed. The stems are completely covered with this fuzz, and that will last all year long. This plant has the more classically shaped wild ginger blossoms. Although this one hasn't opened up completely, they are cup-shaped with pointed ends jutting out in four different directions. The color is scrumptious and unique. I adore them, and last year attempted to preserve one in resin. Not a great result, but I'm not giving up just yet.

Finally it was time to go back up towards the house. I had to pass Maryanne's (and stop in to finish wrapping an order of soap for delivery today...). Along the way, her driveway was ablaze with daffodils and tulips. I layed down on the warm macadam and looked closely at the different forms.

Spring is the best. It makes winter worthwhile. It reminds us of everything good in the world and fills us with hope and renewal.
The first 10 or 15 walks in the woods each year are my favorite things to do all year. No matter how many times I see these things, each year it is like seeing old friends for the first time in a very long time. I have missed them tremendously!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spring Snows

Spring snows around here are nice because they provide lots of needed moisture for the plants. In fact, spring snows bring most of our moisture for the year. Here are pictures of my chives at 4:00 pm on Wednesday and at 9:00 am on Thursday. We were supposed to get a foot of snow but it ended up only being a dusting. Hopefully we will get more this spring since it will determine how much water we can use during the summer.

Thankful for herbs

Trying to smile through the struggle It helps:)

Hello bloggin sisters!
I have been ill for about 3 weeks now pregressively getting worse last week. Fearing a recurrance of cervical cancer I felt like I was tucked away in a corner shriveling away in soul and body.
I am on a cervical cancer program because I do not have insurance, and I checked out well by the gynecologist oncologist. But after this check up the symptoms got really bad.
I felt like a failure as an herb teacher as well as herb walking woman.
I realized that my poor posture in front of the computer for 10+ hours a day was not a healthy thing for me in winter...that was one thing that stood out to me as I began to be introspective on my life.
I also looked outside, I have a bounty of plants. Some of the TEH group and Tina have helped me identify. But so many more are popping up and these old herbals at our rather aged library are not much help.
But the chickweed is alive and well. Already I have gathered her for oil and have that macerating. Nettles-yay now resides on my land. Cleavers too.
I rescued a bloodwort from a local park adn brought her to my land.
The Elder is leafing. The dead nettle and henbit and wild onions we are using in soup as well as dock and dandelion.
The johnny jump ups are popping up here and there.
But my saving grace yesterday was the violet leaf. Never before did I feed so much goodness enter my body then went I went to nibble on her yesterday.

Seeing all these lovely plants, and considering my symptoms, I have been nibbling on chickweed, plantain, and johnny jump up flowers. Also digging some dandelion root although they are so small.

And best of all, the plants are healing me.

Fearing the worst, I began this nibbling hoping that any inflammation would subside.
My abdomen was swollen, I had pain, I could hardly move, and my muscles seemed to continually spasm. My lower back hurt, my middle back hurt. Pelvic pressure was strong. But these little plants are getting me through. I am not in the strong pain, my muscles are getting less spasmodic. the marshmallow root tea I have been drinking has been soothing,and if there was a cyst causing this, maybe the chickweed dissolved that. I dont know.
What I can say is that I AM SO GRATEFUL TO BE ALIVE and to have a place to even type this praises to the little plants.

My mom was dx with lung cancer and it looks like she is on her way out. She and I were never close, but she is my mom and I have been trying to help her long distance as she works through this dx. She has been a heavy smoker all her life, been on oxygen and she really feels this is it, however she wont go back to the oncologist to find out what her true state is. So it is a time of my life that I have never experienced prior and regardless of her being a crappy mom to me, it is sad losing your parent. I forgive her completely. I just want her to find out what is going on so she can have the best care possible as she exits planet earth.

Bless you all in your spring joy-I miss ya'll

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fairy Home Companion

"Fairy Home Companion" is another one of the books we've compiled here at The Essential Herbal. Inside this luscious little book, are all kinds of recipes, crafting instructions, gardening ideas, and original works of fairy fiction for anyone who adores the wee fae folke. This litte gem of a book will give you plenty of ideas to ponder. You'll know which flowers to plant, how to keep the fairies safe once they've gotten cozy in your garden, and what they'd like to eat. Step into the garden with us and believe!

Below, I'm posting the recipes that were submitted by my sweet friend Sarah Liberta for the book.

by Sarah Liberta

My friend Artie Lyons calls this her twenty-minute cake. She says, “With supplies on hand, if a friend calls to say she’s coming over, I can have a cake ready by the time she arrives.” We love it with a colorful assortment of fresh flowers strewn over the lush white cream frosting, but when flowers are scarce, the petals of a single rose or a calendula will do just fine.

1 frozen pound cake (16 oz.), defrosted
1 pint whipping cream
1/3 C sugar
2 T raspberry or strawberry jam or preserves
1 T framboise or strawberry liqueur
1 C mixed fresh edible flowers, washed and dried on paper towels

Put whipping cream, mixing bowl and beaters into freezer to chill a few minutes. Slice the cake horizontally into three equal layers and place bottom layer on serving platter. Put preserves in a small dish and heat in microwave for 30 seconds or until melted; stir in liqueur. Whip cream with sugar until firm. Brush 1/2 of fruit mixture over cut side of cake; top with about 3/4 cup of whipped cream; spread evenly. Top with middle layer; repeat with fruit and cream. Put top layer in place and cover entire cake with remaining cream, using spatula to make swirls. Scatter flowers and petals over top and sides and around the base of cake. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for a few hours.

Variation: For a different look and flavor, add 1/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa to cream and sugar before whipping. Fold into whipped cream one 6-ounce package of butter toffee bits, less 2/3 cup of toffee. Use apricot jam and apricot brandy instead of raspberry or strawberry. When cake is covered with cocoa cream, sprinkle with remaining toffee bits. Decorate with golden-colored flowers and petals: calendula, sunflowers, lemon gem marigolds, Mexican mint marigold (Spanish tarragon).

Variation 2: After filling and stacking the layers, cut the pound cake down the middle lengthwise and then cut each half into 3 or 4 equal pieces, forming 6 or 8 mini-cakes. Cover each with cream and decorate with flowers. Or use your favorite pound cake recipe, bake in 8 mini-loaf pans (2” x 4”) and finish as above. Each mini-cake serves 2 tiny fairies.

Flowers that have a mild or slightly sweet flavor -- such as violets, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, pinks, and roses -- are especially lovely when prepared this way. With a supply of these on hand, you can turn the simplest packaged pudding into an elegant surprise.

1 C edible flowers, washed and dried on paper towels
powdered egg white or meringue powder, mixed with water to equal 1 egg white
1 C superfine sugar (or process regular sugar in the blender for a few seconds)

1 small artist’s paintbrush (unused)
sterilized tweezers or forceps
waxed paper

Line a tray or sheet pan with waxed paper, sprinkle with sugar (to keep flowers from sticking). Holding a single flower by the stem with tweezers or forceps, paint its entire surface with the egg mixture. Any area unpainted will turn brown. Sprinkle with sugar to coat thoroughly on both sides. Place on waxed paper to dry. Repeat until all flowers are coated with sugar. Allow to dry till crisp, which may take from several hours to several days, depending on size of flowers. Small flat flowers will dry rather quickly, while whole roses or other large flowers may take a few days to dry thoroughly. Store in an airtight container. Use to decorate cakes, petit fours, candies (truffles, fudge squares), puddings and other desserts.


1/2 C red rose petals
1 T lemon juice
1/2 C cranberry juice
2 C vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

Whirl rose petals in a blender for a few seconds with lemon and cranberry juices. Add ice cream and pulse a few times. Serve in stemmed glasses with fresh or candied rose petals for garnish.


Substitute 1/4 cup fresh open lavender blossoms (or 1 T dried buds) for the rose petals and grape juice for cranberry. Proceed as above, garnishing with lavender blossoms, violets or Johnny-jump-ups.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sense of Wonder Camp

"If I had influence over the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life." Rachel Carson

If you are anywhere near Lancaster, PA and have a daughter aged 8-15, I highly recommend that you consider this week long Eco-Feminist day camp as a gift to her.

My daughter started the year she was old enough. We taught a session at the camp when she was about 5 or 6 and she couldn't wait to be old enough, pleading with me every summer until she finally met the requirement. Now she assists the staff. She just couldn't bring herself to walk away from it when she reached 16.

Why? The above quote is part of the stated philosophy of the founding members (Full Circle Susquehanna, Inc.) and it goes on to say, "These words of Rachel Carson express the philosophy that guides our camp. We want girls to know the beauty and mystery of nature and to see and learn about female role models who hold a deep regard for the Earth and the amazing life on Her."

The things the girls see, hear, and do at this camp are extraordinary. Women who work to change the world in powerful ways come to talk to them. They've met women in politics, women who fly (and soar), women who travel to other countries to make a difference, and women who use their skills and talents to support themselves and contribute to others.

On the surface, it is a week of being outside, guided by the incredible knowledge and attitude of naturalist Lisa Sanchez. Interwoven with that experience is a rich and diverse tapestry of learning new skills and ideas. Over the years, Molly (my daughter) has learned basketry with natural materials, gourd crafting, drumming, Tai Chi, Mask Making, and how to work and play in a group - and many other things. Native plants, animals and insects are studied as well as stream life and habitats, while always the interconnection of all things is noted and discussed.

This year the camp will run from June 16th through the 20th. The theme is Sustainability. If you are interested in more information, email, or call 717-872-6334.