Wild and Weedy Apothecary

If you saw a book with the above title, would you pick it up and look at it?

Well… I did and now I have it here with me.

Here’s how I acquired the book- I attended the Texas Renaissance Festival with my sister-in-law earlier this month. One of our favorite shops is Creative Life Booksellers, not too far inside the front gate. The shop is filled with books, calenders, coloring books, cards, book marks, tarot cards and more on subjects as varied as dragons, faeries, pirates, Celtic history, the Renaissance and, of course, herbs.

The herb book selection is small, but there are always books I don’t have, and such is the case with The Wild and Weedy Apothecary by Doreen Shababy.

Book Cover

The book contains “recipes” for healing uses of herbs, simple teas, food recipes using herbs and a lot about harvesting and using herbs found in your own area. Then, there is an encyclopedic listing of herbs with remedies and recipes for each listing. For instance, under A, you will find the following– Alliums, Anise, Apple, Aromatherapy and Aunt Carols’s Manicotti– each with a recipe or useful commentary

The aspect of this book I like most, besides the content itself, is the tone. It’s friendly and helpful rather than pedantic or authoritative. It feels like you’re sitting at the kitchen table with Doreen over a cup of herb tea, discussing the herbs you’ve used, have growing in your yard or nearby outdoor area and herbs you’re interested in but have yet to grow or try. There’s no feeling of having to rush through this book. The information is easy to access and to use. It’s one to keep handy and think of when you’re feeling a cold coming on, flu-like symptoms, have irritating bug bites or one of your kids has a sore throat.

The recipes for food are for wholesome dishes with easy to find ingredients- or with ingredients right out of your own garden. There’s lots of family history tied up in food and recipes in general, and Ms. Shababy generously shares some of her family with us.

All in all, I consider this book a great find. I’ve been slowly going through it skipping from section to section as I think of herbs to look up or recipes to try.

If you’re into reading blogs, Ms. Shababy has one here.

One more book that is a little unusual that captures my imagination is an Almanac, as it follows the Calendar, rather than an alphabetical pattern. It is by Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles herbal-infused mystery series set in a fictitious Texas Hill Country town called Pecan Springs.

Book CoverThe book is called China Bayles Book of Days.

Each day of the year has a discussion of a particular herb, usually with a recipe or two to accompany it, often with gardening advice. There is a wealth of information in this book. You can read it year after year as the entries follow the calander and thus, the seasons, rather than any particular year.

There are myriad herb books that have been published, from Culpepper’s Herbal published in 1649, to the many colorful books of the present. Some are herb growing guides, some are food recipe books using herbs, some are strictly medicinal, some are about crafting with herbs, while many are a combination of the varied aspects of the world of herbs. Whichever is your choice, there are books to help you learn more and deepen your knowledge and appreciation of this vast world. Whatever your interest in herbs, it is all rooted in the plants, the soil, the natural world around us.

I hope you’re enjoying the holidays with family and friends.

CELEBRATE THE SEASON!

green line

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH
C.S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Herb Tea- Beyond Mint

Originally Published April 2014

Spring has come to most of the U.S. by now, with gardeners busily planting new gardens and tending perennials that overwintered.

peppermint

 Even here in my part of Texas where winter is but a shadow of the sesason much of the country experiences, Spring excites gardeners. Markets that I’ve attended this year have shown herbs to continue to be very popular. Many people are planting them for the first time, so I answer a lot of questions about harvesting and use of culinary herbs.

Herbs growing at The Herb Cottage
Herbs growing at The Herb Cottage

One of the most enduring questions I receive from new herb enthusiasts is “Can I make tea from Orange Mint or Basil Mint or Pineapple Sage or Lemon Thyme or Lemon Verbena or….? ” Of course, you can, I always answer. Why not? You can make tea from any herb whose flavor you like, even if it’s not considered a “tea herb”, such as mint, lemon balm or lemon verbena, for example.

 

Keeping that in mind, I thought I’d review some of the tea herbs I grow and enjoy. Even those of you readers who have grown and used herbs for years may find some combinations you haven’t tried. So, read on!

 

This is what makes Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea red!
This is what makes Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea red!

One of my favorite summer tea blends is a sun tea made with Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers, also known as Roselle or Jamaica, Lemon Grass, Orange Mint and a little Fennel. Many people are surprised to learn I add Fennel to this tea blend. It adds an unusual flavor that cannot be readily identified as anise if it’s used sparingly.

Another anise-flavored herb that can be added to a tea blend is Mexican Mint Marigold, also known as Texas or Mexican Tarragon, Tagetes lucida. If you live where French Tarragon grows well and you have it, you could use that, too.

Fennel growing at The Herb Cottage
Fennel growing at The Herb Cottage

 

 


I use fresh ingredients in my sun tea, except for the Hibiscus flowers or if I’m adding green tea, and the proportions vary somewhat from batch to batch,  as I simply go clip the herbs I want, add them to the gallon jug, add water and set it out in the sun for about 4 hours.

That said, here’s my recipe for a gallon of sun tea with the ingredients mentioned above (amounts are approximate!):

 

  • 1/2 cup dried Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers
  • 1 large handful of fresh Orange Mint
  • 2-3 stalks fresh Lemon Grass, either clipped into 3-4″ sections or simply folded so it fits into the jar
  • 1 leaf stalk fresh Fennel, about 6″ long, unless you really like the anise flavor, then add more
  • 3-4″ stem of fresh Stevia- more if you like it really sweet. Optional

Crush the fresh herbs a bit with your hands or clip them into smallish pieces – 2-4″ – long and add them to a gallon jar. Fill the jar with water. Set out in full sun for about 4 hours. Strain the herbs out, chill and enjoy, garnishing with mint or any of the other herbs you used and/or fresh fruit.

Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans

Pineapple Sage likes to grow in part shade in my climate
Pineapple Sage likes to grow in part shade in my climate

 

is a shrubby plant that, in my garden, grows best with part shade. I find it a bit of a water hog in the hottest part of the summer, but I grow it anyway because I love the bright red flowers and I like to use it in tea. The flowers and leaves can both be used for tea. The flowers can also be used in baking and add a festive touch to pound cakes, sugar cookies and other light colored baked goods. Pineapple Sage makes a wonderful tea by itself and as part of a blend.

 

 

 

 

We don’t usually think of the savory herbs so much for herb tea. But, I find the flavored Thymes make a delicious addition to herbal tea blends. Lemon Thyme adds a bright, deep lemony note to teas with mint or standard green tea.

You can also use Lemon Thyme when brewing tea from “regular” black tea such as Lipton’s, Luzianne or any other black tea.

Lime Thyme adds a mild savory, citrusy flavor to tea
Lime Thyme adds a mild savory, citrusy flavor to tea

Lime Thyme is not as popular an herb as the lemon variety, but it packs a fresh, citrusy flavor. It’s wonderful used with green tea, or with any of the mints or Pineapple Sage. Hint: try it on chicken, fish or in a fruit salsa.

Another Thyme I like for tea is Lavender Thyme- did you even know there was such a plant?

Lavender Thyme has a big flavor in a small package!
Lavender Thyme has a big flavor in a small package!

 

This low growing plant has very tiny, fleshy leaves with an aroma like a savory lavender. It’s terrific added to mint tea or with a blend of lemon herbs.

 

 

 

I hope I’ve sparked your imagination a bit and you’ll try some of these herbs- and more- in your own herbal tea blends this summer. If you like sparkling beverages, make your tea extra strong by adding more herb material- not by steeping it longer- you want to avoid bitterness- and then dilute the tea with sparkling water. Yummm… refreshing and flavorful. 

For an adult beverage, try adding rum to a tea made with Mints and Pineapple Sage, with or without sparkling water. Vodka or gin goes well with any of the minty, lemony herb blends.

herbtea_graphic

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

Smaller than a breadbox, bigger than a TV remote, the average book fits into the human hand with a seductive nestling, a kiss of texture, whether of cover cloth, glazed jacket, or flexible paperback.

-John Updike, writer (18 Mar 1932-2009)

December 2002 – Madder Than a Wet Hen

Madder than a wet hen…

Have you ever heard the expression, “Madder than a wet hen”? I don’t know how that expression came into use. My hens don’t seem to mind the water a bit. Today is a cold and rainy day, but I made my mucky way out to the chicken yard to open the doors for the birds. There are ducks housed with the chickens and I knew they’d love to be out in the mud and rain, no matter what the temperature. Did the chickens stay inside where it was dry, where I spread their scratch grain? No, not those chickens. They wandered outside in the rain and mud to peck around and enjoy the cold. I don’t expect them to stay out very long…. but, go out they did, got wet and kept their even temper.

The weather today is conducive to staying indoors putting on a pot of soup or stew, baking savory bread or sweet, buttery cookies, curling up with a book or even going over your garden notes from last season. I’ve learned to actually keep notes on growing conditions both in the greenhouse and the display gardens. I track germination times, hardiness, water needs, sun or shade preference and mature size of different plants. If you like using a computer, set up a database for yourself listing your plants, various characteristics, notes throughout the season, and perhaps where you acquired the seeds or plants and the cost. You can include anything that you would find helpful to evaluate your plants. It gives you a way to evaluate new plants and old favorites. Continue reading “December 2002 – Madder Than a Wet Hen”