Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Colds and Flu and Autumnal Blues - Try a Little Fire

(This is an edited version of an article that appeared in our newsletter a few years ago. It seemed appropriate to run for Fire Cider Day)

Autumn is rolling through, and the chill of the changing season is creeping in more and more.  With the fluctuating weather, flu's, colds, and a general feeling of ennui become more prevalent . There's an age old remedy you may have heard about. It uses the many healthful benefits of apple cider vinegar, onions, garlic, ginger, horseradish and honey to kick start your immune system and fight off the nasties. It's an easy remedy to make at home, useful for your health and for cooking!  It's Fire Cider!
You can find my general recipe for fire cider here. There's also a link for a great video from Rosemary Gladstar, the first herbalist to publicly, freely, and openly share her fabulous recipe.
Fire Cider has a biting, tangy sweet flavor. And it's easily adaptable to your personal preferences. Once you make your fiery cider blend, what can you do with it beside fend off a cold? Oh so very much! It's unique flavor makes it a great addition in many recipes.
  • Use it when making a vinaigrette dressing. It adds a nice warmth with just that little touch of sweetness.  
  • Making some Bloody Mary's? Add a splash of this fiery blend.   
  • When I'm making taco's or macaroni & pasta, I like to add a splash to the meat to boost the flavor.
  • It is fabulous as part of a marinade!
  • Use the fire cider as part of an amazing barbecue sauce.
  • Add a splash with a little extra honey to some seltzer and you have a surprisingly refreshing and revitalizing soda.
Let your imagination go and you can find dozens of ways to make fire cider a healthy and tasty part of your cooking routine.  Fight off the flu and kick up the flavor with some home made Fire Cider.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Bring Magic to the Garden with Fireflies

The onset of summer brings on many magical delights. Longer days, delightful nights, gardens and beaches and mountains, and adventure. And bugs. There are some bugs that truly bug us, but there are others that absolutely delight - like fireflies!

Firefly pathwayFireflies are amazing little creatures. These beetles are a welcome pleasure since seeing them is a sign that summer is truly upon us. Unfortunately, they are on the decline. Losing these little fairies of the season is not only sad for the child in all of us, but it is sad for the environment as well. There are, however, a number of things you can do to keep the magic glowing in your yard.

1) Turn off the lights. Fireflies signal their mates by flashing their perfect little lights. Ambient light from houses, streetlights, garden lights, etc., make it hard for the guys and gals to see each other. From twilight to just after dark, resist the urge to pop on the lights and you might just have a chance to see the light show of love.

2) Don't over mow, at least not that low. The firefly enjoys hanging out in the grass during the day. And eggs and larvae are born and grow in the ground. They prefer longer grass, so resist the urge to keep the lawn trimmed as tight as a crew cut. At the very least allow for some longer grasses to grow in some areas of your lawn to give the lightening bugs somewhere to live.

3) Let the slugs ... be slugs. Although most adult fireflies eat nectar and pollen, the larvae are carnivores and enjoy snaking on slugs, grubs, snails and even aphids. So the little glow worms (yep, the larvae sometimes glow) are actually natural pesticides for the garden.

4) Speaking of pests, Avoid pesticides and fertilizers. Commercial pesticides don't discriminate and affect a broad range of insects - including the good ones like fireflies. Chemical fertilizers can also cause issue since some of the constituents are the same as the pesticides. Try to use natural fertilizers like compost, and look for natural remedies like companion planting to deter bad bugs.

5) Leave the natural litter. Well, not litter. But the fallen leaves and wood piles kind of litter. Larvae love rotting woods and leaves, like the kind found on the forest floor. Having some of these around will give them a cozy home to grow in.

Purple echnacea with a happy fat bee6) Plant what they like. Your yard will look great too! Native trees and pines are good homes to local fireflies, they love the shade and protection. Fireflies tend to like moist areas, especially wet meadows, forest edges, farm fields, and wild bog, marsh, stream and lake edges. Adult fireflies eat nectar and pollen, so plant natives would be extremely enticing to our flashing friends.

7) Don't put them in a jar. At least not for a long time. A short time for better observation would be OK, but a longer time might kill them. With their numbers dwindling it's best to spot them while they flit about. In fact if you like an evening firefly watch, you can join the Museum of Science Firefly Watch. Help keep track of the firefly population and maybe help save them!

Fireflies bring out the magic of a fresh new summer. Help keep that magic going by taking care to encourage the fairies to light up the night.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Burning Up the Herb of the Year - Hot Peppers!

Hot peppers are all the rage. You can't watch a cooking show without seeing them “kick up the heat” with some type of fiery fruit. Jalapenos and Cayenne are the most popular additions. You can find this spicy fruit in everything from stews to sauces, rubs to rices, even in chocolate and ice cream.

Here's the kicker... I can't stand eating them. Actually find them painful – and not in the good way. Very, very, VERY mild heat I can tolerate. We're talking lots of black pepper hot. No super zippy foods for me. But I can appreciate the benefits they provide, for your insides and especially for your outsides.

Capsicum, or hot peppers, are the 2016 Herb of the Year. The International HerbSociety, which chooses the annual celebratory herb, “evaluates possible choices based on their being outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.” Peppers fit that definition perfectly in all three categories.

Internally, cayenne and it's cousins pack in the vitamins like C, A, B, K1 and E. They provide a painful heat that produces endorphin's which, despite the initial pain from the heat, actually help relieve pain. The hotter the pepper the more endorphin's produced. Be careful before you go on that endorphin bender though. You can actually get burned from peppers like Scotch Bonnets or Trinidad Scorpions. In fact, one drop of pure capsaicin comes in at over 15 million Scoville units. Even diluting that 1 drop in 100,000 drops of water, your skin would blister.

My favorite use for hot peppers, having the issues I have, is to use it externally. The Capsacin in capsicum's provides that heat both inside and out. Capsacin does cause an initial hot feeling on the skin. It binds with pain receptors in the nerve endings and causes an intense burning sensation, which overloads the body’s pain sensors. The nerves stop sending pain messages for brief time, giving temporary relief to aches and soreness.

This is the natural magic that comes in to play with our Muscle Rub. We steep hot peppers (cayenne's and scotch bonnets) in a blend of oils and other herbs. Peppers add that nice little warmth. It's also used in a variety of liniments – if you need to “kick up the heat.”

Hot peppers do have an interesting history. Did you know that sweet peppers – which I do adore – are not naturally occurring? They are bred to be heatless. In fact, if you are growing peppers make sure to keep the hot ones far from the sweet ones. They can cross breed, which can be very surprising if you don't know that.

These are just a few of the reasons Capsicum annuum truly does deserve the status of Herb of the Year! There are so many more. Let us know why you love your hot peppers.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What will you do on Herb Day?

Herbs are so much a part of daily life. They are used in food, flavoring, medicine, cleaning, and decor. They can bring such simple joy - there's nothing like a whiff of Pineapple Sage or Rosemary to brighten your spirits.

Saturday, May 7th, is Herb Day. The annual celebration takes time to honor these seemingly innocuous little plants that are all around us. And I mean ALL around us! It's a perfect day to take some time and learn more about your favorite herbs, or discover some new ones.

What can you do to celebrate? How about:

1) Walk around your yard! Try a nibble of a dandelion leaf. Pick the smaller, newer leaves. They are more tender less bitter. Take note of the plantain, ground ivy, violets - yep, those are all herbs!

2) Take a cooking class, or improvise a new spin on a favorite recipe by adding some extra herbs. Add some lavender flowers to some yellow cake mix and make Lavender cupcakes. Use a bright, strong tea to enhance a recipe.

3) Read up on this months Herb of the Month (Nasturtium - beautiful AND tasty!) or the Herb of the Year (peppers - hot or sweet).

4) Herbs are great crafting! They can be used in flower arrangements, made into sachets or potpourri, making pomanders, infused into vinegar's or oils - so many options.

5) Get digging and plant some herbs! Whether it's favorites like peppers, tomatoes, or sage, or some new inspirations like rue or Calendula. Many gardens and markets are having sales this year - so stop by and visit and get inspired. Rutgers Gardens is having their big Spring Flower Fair. Everyone there is very knowledgeable and will be glad to help.

Herb Day can be a kick off for into a year long exploration of the amazing herbal world around us. And you can turn your herbal adventures into gifts for Mom, since the next day is Mothers Day!

Let us know what you to celebrate a Happy Herb Day!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Let's Hear it for the Trees! In Celebration of Arbor Day!

Spring is well in. We can tell by the greening of the grass, the cheerful flowers that appear, and, perhaps, the most heartening sight of all - the greening of the trees. How appropriate that as the spring comes full sway, we celebrate Arbor Day!

Angel Oak of South Carolina - she's a beauty, isn't she?
"It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit."
-   Robert Louis Stevenson 

We can thank a journalist and nature lover from Nebraska, J. Sterling Morton, for this annual celebration of our most sustaining an valuable natural allies. He recognized the importance of trees to all of nature, and made it his calling to see that everyone understood their importance to our existence. 
"The cultivation of trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man." 
-   J. Sterling Morton 

Trees have so much they give to the world, it IS an important thing to remember. They provide air, food, prevent erosion, and so much more. Some of the worst environmental damage is when swaths of forests are destroyed.

"Trees can reduce the heat of a summer's day, quiet a highway's noise, feed the hungry, provide shelter from the wind and warmth in the winter.  You see, the forests are the sanctuaries not only of wildlife, but also of the human spirit.  And every tree is a pact between generations." 
-   George Bush, U.S. President, 1989 

Thank you Ents (from Lord of the Rings)
There certainly is a magic in trees. Walking through an old forest does something for your spirit. Everything feels different. Trees can tell the history of an area in their growth and in their very being - within their rings. You can almost hear them whispering their stories as you walk along. You can hear their warning as well.

We haven't always been careful or considerate of their presence because we want their space for concrete that keeps the earth from breathing. They're in the way. But if not for them there'd be no way. 

So this Arbor Day, if you don't want the Ents to get you, take some time and plant a tree, or tend some trees. Walk in one of our amazing parks, or really take a look at the New Jersey Pinelands. Feel the magic that the trees provide, and carry that with you throughout the year. They are a precious commodity that should be listened to. 

We are Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy)