I checked on my herb garden today. I found more green than I expected!
I planted these lavender plants last Summer. They grew so much! It looks like the winter Chamomile. It is still so green!
did not bother them one bit. They still smell good! The best variety to grown in MN is
Cilantro. One of my favorites. It still tastes good! Thyme. Still smells and tastes great! Permaculture island
Thursday morning is the time I have dedicated to my Herbal Academy and Anatomy & Physiology class because it is the only time all 4 of our kids are in school. So that means SILENCE! For only about 3 hours but I will take what I can get. So after studying the structure of our cells (so fascinating) and about what herbs to use to strengthen the respiratory system, I was ready to take a break, conquer my domestic duties and switch roles with my husband. There were (well, still is) dishes to do, food to cook, laundry to fold, you get the idea.
However, my husband knew that I was excited to use my new still that I received for my birthday about a week ago. So, he decided to push everything aside and fire up the still. I was a bit annoyed, (this is when my perfectionist side comes out) because I was not ready. I wanted to clean up my workspace, study my instructions and decide on the right herb to use. He was having none of that. After a little bit of complaining, I embraced that moment and went with it. I am so glad I did! When I let my perfectionism get in the way of achieving my goals, I don't get very far. For those of you who have kids, you know what I mean. In my perfect world, I would have more silence, a tidy workplace, and unlimited time. However, with four kids, this never happens! If I always waited for the "perfect" moment. I would not get anything done.
My husband harvested cedar foliage from the tree right outside our front door, and we were ready to go.
What is a hydrosol?
Hydrosols are also called flower waters or distillates. They are produced by distilling plant material. They have similar properties as essential oils but are less concentrated and very safe to use for many applications. They capture the aroma of the plant material as well as water soluble healing compounds. They can be used alone or added to lotions, hair care, soaps and more. I like hydrosols because they are so safe you can use them undiluted.
The Process and equipment
I purchased a 1.5 Liter Alembic still from here, and I think it is the perfect size for home distilling. It holds about 48oz of water and about 4oz of dried herb.
The process is so simple and so rewarding! The water and plant material in the pot heats up to a boil and creates steam, the steam (carrying the water soluble properties and essential oils with it) travels through the neck of the still and goes through copper tubing that is surrounded by ice water. The cold temperature condenses it back into water, and this drips out of your still and is the hydrosol.
First, I rinsed out my still to remove any impurities that may remain from the manufacturing process.
Second, I filled the pot half way with distilled water. I avoid using hard water because over time it will leave mineral deposits on the still, not good.
Third, I chopped up my cedar foliage to maximize surface area and added about a cup to the water.
Fourth, I added cold water and snow to the condenser. Another option is ice, but hey, it's winter in Minnesota!
Fifth, I set up a sterilized canning jar to catch the hydrosol.
Sixth, I turned the stove top on high and waited for the water to start to boil. When it is boiling, drips start to come out of the condenser. You don't want a stream, just drips. That's why you turn it down to medium heat. You know you are at the correct temperature when there is a steady flow of drips.
I had waited about an hour before I turned off the stove. The process is over when you have collected about half the amount of water you started with.
The end product
Wow! The aroma of the hydrosol is amazing! It is has a sharp pine scent, a bit floral, fresh, sweet, and it reminds me of a hike in the mountains on a hot and sunny day. If you look closely, you can see the essential oils floating on top. There isn't very much, but it is so fun to see that I captured essential oils! Next batch, I plan on separating the essential oils.
I bottled the hydrosol and now use it for everything. It is great as a room freshener, body spray, cleaner and more!
It is known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Cedar is used topically for its benefits with rheumatism, arthritis, achy muscles, psoriasis, eczema, and fungal infections. It is also used to promote circulation.
PLEASE NOTE: Cedar can be a skin irritant in some people as it tends to constrict the pores of the skin.
Also may contain thujone, a known neurotoxin. This can cause a problem if you ingest a significant amount.
One of the places that we order essential oils from also sells synthetic fragrance oils and they often send us samples with our order. Since we use essential oils exclusively in our products the synthetic fragrances never get put to use, but the fact that we get samples for free and have never received essential oil samples is telling. It's the reason synthetics are used so much in the first place; they're cheap. So why don't we use synthetic fragrances in our handcrafted soap and other products? There are a few reasons. The first one is that they don't smell as good. This might seem obvious since creating a lavender scent in a laboratory is naturally going to fall short of actual lavender oil. But there are some things you can't get with using natural oils. For example, it would be difficult to achieve a good popcorn scent, or "ocean mist" or lilac etc. But I find that there are so many wonderful scents that can be extracted from nature that it seems unnecessary to use synthetics. Some include: Natural peppermint, lavender, rose, patchouli, eucalyptus, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, clove. The simple fact is that synthetics are used because they are cheaper and easier. Which is generally a good reason to use something provided that they aren't also worse. Which brings me to the second reason we don't use synthetic fragrances. They are not healthy to work with, or put on your body. Not only do they lack the therapeutic properties of essential oils, but they also have many irritating and harmful properties. When you look at the ingredients on a lotion bottle and it says "fragrance" or "perfume" that one word can represent 200 different ingredients that aren't specifically listed. Many people have an allergic reaction to synthetic fragrances that can range from a skin irritation to headaches and nausea. Here is a short list of scents that you know are synthetic when you see them because they don't exist as essential oils:
Cucumber, lilac ( I get a lot of people looking for this kind of soap), Apple, April Showers, Melons, Bubble Gum,
Rainforest. The list can go on and on, but this is just an idea of what to look for when avoiding synthetic fragrances.
Some companies also use a mixture of synthetic fragrances and essential oils. There are synthetic peppermints and synthetic lavenders. Also, when you see a product scented with vanilla, jasmine, rose and/or sandalwood they are most likely synthetic. These are all available as essential oils too, but are so expensive not many companies use them in their pure form. The price depends on how much plant matter is needed to extract a decent amount of oil. For instance: you need 1,000 pounds of jasmine (3 million flowers) to make a pound of jasmine essential oil and you need 2,000 pounds of fresh rose petals to make a pound of oil. In comparison, you need 100 pounds of lavender flowers to make a pound of essential oil. I have found a reliable source who sells pure jasmine and vanilla oils at a reasonable price so I am able to use them in some of my products but keep it to a minimum because of the price. When buying beauty products it can be hard to know what are essential oils and what are synthetic fragrances. For the most part, avoid any products that list "fragrance" or "perfume" as an ingredient. Look for products only containing essential oils. After awhile, your nose will know what to avoid.
I have found a great company who makes and sells 100% natural and organic flavor oils. I have been experimenting with these oils and currently use some in my products. They are raspberry and coconut. These flavor oils may not contain the many therapeutic benefits essential oils do, but a lot of my customers and my family, love the way they smell. And it is good to know they don't contain the harmful ingredients like synthetic fragrances do. But I love that I have the option to offer these to my customers.
What is your favorite scent? Is there a synthetic scent that you wish was available in an essential oil?
Who doesn't enjoy a relaxing aromatherapy bath?! I know it is hard to think about in this heat, but my kiddos still enjoy them during the summer months. Especially if it softens their skin and leaves them smelling like Lavender! It is great right before bedtime because Lavender is very relaxing and soothing.
This doesn't produce large bubbles like the bubble bath you can buy in the stores that are filled with nasty ingredients. It does produce small, gentle bubbles and leaves your skin oh so soft!
Here is the recipe:
2 cups water
1/2 cup shredded Naked Beauty Soap, any scent (I used Peaceful Meadows)
1 TBSPN Naked Beauty Body Oil, any scent (I used Soothe)
Boil the water and add the soap shavings, mix until dissloved
Mix in the oil.
Let cool and store in a glass jar.
Shake or mix before each use.
Because of the kind of soap I used, my end product is a beautiful lavender color.
Makes a great and inexpensive gift!!
Another passion of mine is HERBS! I am more interested in their healing and medicinal benefits than using them in cooking. That is what my hubby is good at. Whenever my kiddos are sick, I always use herbal remedies to help them feel better. And now instead of buying the natural cough syrup that contains mostly honey and some herbs, I can use my own! This is probably the easiest herbal infusion I have made. All you do is pick fresh organic herbs, wash them, heat up the honey, and add the herbs to the honey. No need to strain out the herbs, they will continue to infuse the syrup. The syrups will last up to 18 months
I made a Lemon Balm and Peppermint infusion. The Lemon Balm syrup is great for an upset stomach, colds, nausea, and a sore throat. The Peppermint syrup is good for allergies, anxiety, colds, congestion, coughs, headache, and nausea. They both taste great and I can use them in teas, cooking, or as an herbal remedy.
That's right, stinging nettles are in season. So what do you do with stinging nettles you might ask? Good question. Well it just so happens that they are delicious and very healthy. Just go out in early spring and pick them when they are about 8 inches tall or less. Wear gloves because they can sting even when they're little. Take them home, chop them up and steam them for just a few minutes. This gets rid of the sting and turns them a brilliant green. Then what I like to do, and my kids too, is dip them in ranch dressing. And don't forget to drink the water from the pot. Nettle tea is also an excellent and very healthy beverage.
Before John and I got married our first joint purchase ever was a book called "Edible and Medicinal Plants of Minnesota and Wisconsin" by Mathew Alfs. This book has been well used for 7 years now and we will continue to use it. Here are a few things that Mathew Alfs has to say about the humble and under-rated stinging nettle:
"Nettles vitamins include: A, B1, B2, B5, C, D, E, K1, choline, and folic acid. Minerals include: iron, sodium, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, silica, and potassium. Nettle is also extremely high in protein as well as possessing one of the highest chlorophyll contents known in edible North American wild plants."
He goes on for about three pages but you get the idea.
Another great way to use nettles is to add them to basil pesto to stretch the basil and also give it more nutrients. Since nettles have a very mild and neutral flavor they don't substantially change the flavor of the pesto.
I also like to make my own oil infusions and tinctures with the wild plants we harvest. I also plan on drying them for tea.
Harvesting wild edible and medicinal plants and learning about all the amazing benefits they have is one of my favorite things to do. It doesn't get any more organic than harvesting from the wild! Check back soon to see what we find on our next foraging outing!!
This day we harvested about two pounds of nettles and ate them all that evening. We made a cream soup with dumplings and nettles and it was very good. Most of the nettles were eaten by the kids though. They love to dip them in ranch dressing.
Nettles have a mild and rich flavor if that makes any sense. I think they taste like a combination of asparagus and artichoke. There's no bitterness or wild taste. They also don't get slimy like spinach does when you cook it. They maintain a little bounce if you don't cook them too long.
Get out and pick some nettles!!
It has been a very early spring and it is totally throwing me off. Our rose bushes and raspberry bushes are already growing leaves, and our chives are popping up! It's very exciting. I recently got out some dried herbs from last year and Rebecca, my three year old daughter, was helping me pull flowers and leaves off of the stems so that I can experiment with potpourri making. Right now our yard is a complete disaster. When we moved in over 60% of our backyard was concrete. We just had that removed so now 60% of our back yard is mud!! But we planted grass and hopefully it will be a yard again very soon. I would love to plant the whole thing with herbs and flowers, but we will leave a little bit of room for grass!
My first potpourri attempt was a batch of lemon balm leaves, lavender flowers and leaves, bachelor button flowers for color, calendula petals for color, and rose petals. I used lavender and lemon essential oils to scent with a fixative that is used in bath salts. It's not the right fixative for potpourri, it was just an experiment. It smells fresh like summer! I'm waiting for my orris root to arrive so that I can make a real batch and use it as my fixative!