Friday, 28 November 2008

Lemon Verbena - Thank the Spanish For That

Lemon Verbena - Thank the Spanish For ThatI must admit I've never had the pleasure of growing Lemon Verbena, but I have seen it in other peoples' gardens and have been quite fascinated with the distinctive lemon characteristics that the leaves present. So when I came across the herbs picture on the web, I recognised it straight away and remembered the scent it gave out on my hand after stroking the tough leaves.

Lemon verbena or sometime called Lemon bee brush is a deciduous perennial shrub originating from South America typically, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru. The Spanish brought it into Europe during the 17th century. It can grow up to around 3 metres high and sends out a powerful lemony scent. The herb has light green leaves that are lance-shaped. It blooms tiny flowers of lavender or white thatm show themsleves during the months of August or September.

The leaves are the main source of the lemon having a wonderful lemony scent and flavour accompaniment. The leaves are rough textured so they are usually processed or very finely chopped. The other process is to make an infusion in oil, vinegar or water turning out a flavoured sauce for ice cream and jellies. Lemon verbena is used extensively in fish and poultry dishes along with vegetable marinades, salad dressings, jams, puddings including sorbet and other beverages sorbet.

Like many herbs tea can be made from the leaves. This particular herb is popular in France known locally as ’tisane de vervain’. Lemon verbena tea recipe is really quite easy and economical to make. Just put three leaves in a cup, pour over very hot, but not boiling water. Steep for five minutes and drink. It's that easy. As an alternative it can be served cold in summer.

In addition to the food enhancing it contributes to, it is used in the treatment Candida (a yeast overgrowth) as it has properties that eliminate the fungus.

Lemon Verbena - Thank the Spanish For ThatIt is said that to culture Lemon verbena it is best grown in a pot. It doesn't like frost and will need protection in winter, which is why the pot option is best. However, whenever I have seen it in gardens it is planted permanently outside and covered with netting in the winter.

Established plants can be bought from larger garden centres although the cheaper option and in my option the more exciting and rewarding option is to grow it your own from cuttings. You can do this right the way through from the softwood in the spring to the hardwood in early autumn. As with most wood cuttings for propagation, simple secure the cutting(s) into a mix of compost and grit and transfer into larger pots once they’ve got roots.

In my research I found out that the American series of 'In the Little House on the Prairie’ that I used to watch in the U.K,. In one episode, one of the characters dons the scent of lemon verbena.

One final tip I found that I found rather novel, was to crush a few leaves and put then them into the bag of your vacuum cleaner. A clean fresh lemon fragrance is the reward you get after the vacuuming is done!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Dandelion Wine - Herbs and Wine a Combination for Health

Dandelion Wine - Herbs and Wine a Combination for HealthI am a great fan of making wine at home and my passion for herbs rides just as high. Wine and herbs just seem to go together, a natural partnership that also sounds good. The health benefits from both wine and herbs are proven beyond all doubt, so why, away from food recipes are there not more combinations of them to produce a healthy herb wine? Well I can address that now with this dandelion wine recipe, although essentially it is an orange, banana and dandelion wine.

There are many recipes that give for wines, however, herbs wine recipes are rare. The reason being that herbs alone cannot make wine, they are mainly used, if at all, for bouquet. In order for the fermentation to take place, you need other ingredients to perform this act, usually sugar based fruits, mostly with natural compounds that create a healthy fermentation, i.e. grapes, pears, apples, plums etc. Other fruits and vegetables that lack natural yeast may need the addition of cultured yeast.

Dandelion Wine - Herbs and Wine a Combination for HealthThis recipe is a favourite of mine; I used to make when living in Yorkshire in the later spring when the dandelions are at there best. The dandelions have to be picked on a warm sunny day at around midday when they are fully open and the dew have evaporated; this is when the dandelions’ flavour is at its peak.

It is very easy to make although unless you can get dried dandelions, you will have to wait until spring to start it.

You will need:

4 pints fresh dandelion flowers (yellow petal only)
3 lbs granulated sugar
Two slightly over ripe bananas
4 oranges
1-gallon water
Wine yeast and nutrient


Dandelion Wine - Herbs and Wine a Combination for HealthBoil the 1 gallon of water and pour the over the flowers that should be in a plastic bucket. Make sure you pour directly onto the flowers to cool the water slightly before touching the plastic. Cover with cloth and leave to steep for two days. Pour the mixture back into a cooking pot or pan and bring to a boil.

Add the orange peelings from the four oranges without the white pith and continue boiling for a further ten minutes.

Strain through a clean cloth into a plastic bucket with the sugar and stir to dissolve.

Add the juice of the oranges when cooled then the yeast.

Dandelion Wine - Herbs and Wine a Combination for HealthPour the juice into a gallon demijohn and fit a fermentation lock. Keep in a warm place, e.g. airing cupboard and allow to ferment out completely.

Rack the wine, which means siphon off the wine leaving the sediment behind into another container. Clean out the demijohn and transfer the wine back in topping up with cooled boiled water. Store in a cool place and the wine will soon clear. Rack again and either store in bottles or the demijohn, topping up as before if needed.

You will now need a further six months to a year before it will be ready for drinking. It is a light wine full of flavour and the bananas give it the body unlike many other herb-based wines that don’t have this characteristic.
Dandelion Wine - Herbs and Wine a Combination for HealthNOTE:
You can substitute other herbs in this recipe, or even a mixture of your favourite herbs; sage, mint, parsley and rosemary go well individually or as combinations.

One thing is for sure, you can't buy this in a supermarket and even if you could, your homemade version would be much, much better. You would also know that it is free of chemicals and preservatives and the nominal cost of producing it is an added bonus.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!Witch hazel has always been a fascinating and mysterious herb to me. The name itself conjures up bygone years where witch-hunts and potions were made and devilish goings on in forest and villages in olde England. My mother used to use it, but I just can't remember what she used it for until my research gave the clues.

It is a simple herb essentially a flowering plant. There are two main varieties one in North America the other in oriental Japan and China. They grow as a deciduous shrub or sometimes as small trees growing up to 8 metres tall. The leaves are oval averaging around 7-8 cm in length and 5 cm wide with smooth or wavy margins. The official meaning for the witch hazel is 'together with fruit'. The simple reason being that the fruit, the flowers and next year's leaf buds appear on the branch all at the same time.

The fruit is a two-piece capsule around 1 cm long. It has a single 5 mm black seed in each of the two segments. The capsule explodes when mature in the autumn firing the seeds to fly up to 10 metres away. Another nickname for this herb from these natural actions is named 'Snapping Hazel'.

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!The actual name 'witch' comes from the Middle Ages in England and the word used called 'wiche'. So, after all these years believing it was named after witches, it is not! It comes from the word ‘wice’, which means 'bendable'. The word hazel comes from using the wood as rods, just as hazel twig wood is used in England.

Witch hazel are popular ornamental plants with rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to develop in the autumn season and continuing throughout the winter.

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!The bark and leaves give an extract, this is also called as witch hazel and is used medicinally. This extract is used in aftershave and cream to treating bruises and insect bites. Witch hazel is also the main ingredient and active element in many haemorrhoid medications. The seeds form the witch hazel capsules contain oil and are also edible.

It now springs to mind what my mother used it for, we as kids used to get bitten by insects in the summer months, it was used to treat these, I remember the smell that reminds me of summer and now I know why.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Hops for Beer, Medicine and Garlands

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsBack in the UK one of my pastimes was brewing my own beer. This was not done from kits but from gathering all natural ingredients. Many types of beer were made from a black Guinness type to lager and nettle and bran beer to cock ale (where the carcass of a chicken was also used in the brewing stage.)

In all the wonderful beers that I produced, the need for hops was apparent in each case, this is what made a beer taste like a beer.

History shows that the hop herb was used almost extensively in brewing throughout most of Europe. It has properties that give beer its distinctive flavour, it help preserve and clear the beer. This goes back to the 9th Century and was actually documented in the 11th century.

There are many reasons why hops are used in brewing. There is the distinctive bitterness of the hops balances with the sweetness of the malt. Then there is the flavour of the hops that add to the beers' characteristics and is achieved by boiling the hops in the wort for 10-15 minutes.

The aroma of the hops is absorbed into the beer by boiling the hops with the wort or by 'dry hopping', this is basically adding the hops to the secondary fermentation for up to a week. Finally there are the preserving qualities it holds. Hops are a natural preservative needed to insure a beer's aging process.

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsTraditionally in hop growing areas in the UK, the cultivated hop plant forms a beautiful garland that is ready to harvest at the end of August.

Little know is the fact that hops stems can be steamed and eaten, this is a recipe that came from the Romans..

Hops are the flowers of the plant. It has bitterness that balances out the sweetness of the malt in beer. It is common that hops are added at the end of the boil, know as the finishing hops, which give more flavour and aroma to the beer.

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsParticular hop varieties pertain to certain beer regions and styles. Pale lagers are usually brewed with European noble hop varieties such as Saaz, Hallertau and Strissel Spalt. British ales use hop varieties such as Fuggle, Golding and Bullion. Across the Atlantic in North American they use Cascade, Columbia, Willamette and Amarillo hops.

Hops are used in herbal medicine not too far removed from the effects of valerian; this is to treat anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. A folk remedy is to fill a pillow filled with hops for sleeplessness. Although hops are usually be used alone, they combined well with other herbs, such as valerian.

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsHops grown in gardens for home brewing use are not that popular today, even though they are easily manage. The reason is that buying in hops from professional producers will always guarantee quality. It you do want to try some out, planting should be made where there is a good drainage and a sunny position. Hops are climbers and will reach up to three metres, so they will need supports or a trellis. It is only in the second season that the flowers will appear. An established hop plant with give scented bloom in mid summer and the hops cones ripen in autumn to be harvested for decoration or home brewing.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Home Grown Herbs - Why not?

Home Grown Herbs - Why not?Home grown herbs are something that every single household can do. It is with complete amazement that folk can trundle down to the supermarket and buy expensive herbs in plastic casing for an incredible amount of money, which is inferior in every way to the herb you can easily grown at home. Why do people do this? Even if it was as good as homegrown herbs, why pay? What’s more, your homegrown herb is on your doorstep and as fresh as you can ever get. Need I go on?

Growing herbs is the easiest thing in the world and cost absolutely nothing but time to grow.

Grow herbs in the garden, greenhouse or on an allotment. Even if you haven’t got a garden or access to an allotment, use a friend’s garden and share the produce, why not? If they were friends surely they wouldn’t object. Start some off indoors on a windowsill. It can be in the kitchen dining room, bedroom or even the bathroom. Even if you haven’t got a garden use a friends’ garden and share the produce, why not? If they were friends surely they wouldn’t object.

Home Grown Herbs - Why not?The whole point is, everyone should be growing herbs and using them in their own cooking. Maybe it’s because the trend is not to do any home cooking anymore. The need for herbs is on the decrease because of fast food, microwave culture and snacks. Is this the beginning of the end of real natural food, it is for many in high geared westernised culture that gives people everything on a plate. Convenience is the fashion and cooking is an inconvenience.

It isn’t only the wonderfully fresh and natural produce that you benefit from by home growing herbs it is the whole process of culturing nature’s process and being part of it. Your stress levels by doing this will fall and you will be the most popular person in your neighbourhood from sharing surplus stocks of herbs. The healthy pastime of gardening and consuming the produce will also be a major benefit to you and your family. And not least, your shopping bills will be that much cheaper.

In the space of just five minutes you could have prepared and planted herbs that will be produce in the bank. Herbs basically look after themselves; this is how most of them have lived wild for thousands of years. All you need to do it make sure they do not dry out, that’s it! How simple is that? You will be amazed how robust herbs are and the rewards you get for just that initial five minutes. In a short time you can laugh at other people you now see picking prepacked herbs in the supermarket.

Home Grown Herbs - Why not?This blog is just to get you thinking about the possibilities and potential that you have in you home for creating something free and healthy, not least and education for you and more importantly your children, who will remember culturing herbs and experiencing the tastes, textures and scents for the rest of their lives. How do you think I got my enthusiasm?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

America's Weed - Hogwort

America's Weed - HogwortJ. K. Rowling and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from her Harry Potter series of books must spring to mind with this name. Hogwort was apparently seen in Kew Gardens by the author and the name had remained part of her subconscious when writing.

Hogwort is also called the Woolly Croton or dove weed and grows in sandy prairies, openings and waste places in the USA mainly from New Jersey to Iowa and southward to Georgia and Texas. It is an upright, multi-branched annual herb and can reach a height of 1 metre. It has greyish-green stems with tiny hairs. The leaves are a thin lance shape and vary from 2 to 9 centimetres long. The green male flowers are situated above the female flowers on a stalk.

America's Weed - HogwortThe fruit consists of a three-seeded pod. There is a system of distributing the seed by quails, mourning dove (hence the name doveweed) and turkeys who consume and spread the seed. Hogwort flowers from summer to autumn (July to October) and is a source of food for caterpillars from the Leafwing and Starred Skipper butterflies.

Hogwort thrives on open uplands and bottomlands and grows best in sandy soils. It also grows on recently ploughed fields, along roadsides and in big grazed pasturelands.

It has a reputation for being a troublesome weed in the southern part of the USA particularly in the Gulf States. Although considered a weed, the benefits of hogwort are in the croton oil it produces, this makes a powerful laxative. And of course fodder for grazing, especially wild deer.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Herb Power - Good and Evil

Herb Power - Good and EvilIn this world of ours is a world of nature. We all life in a continuous cycle of life followed by death, it is that simple. This is nature that has control of us, we can extend that life with our knowledge and intelligence, but still millions of people don’t extend their living by using the things we know about health and well-being.

There are many things that we take for granted in nature or refuse to accept. Herbs have properties that can help countless people with illness or disease. This is a fact. Another fact is that herbs can kill if the respect is not there.

Through many thousands of years of experimentation, the deadly qualities that some herb possess have become only know to a relative few who have dedicated their lives to finding out.

Herb Power - Good and EvilThere is a power and mystic there that ties up with much witchcraft associated with it, even today in our modern scientific outlook on most things. There are still secrets of the herb that remain hidden with a select few. What before was known as magic potions remain undiscovered and still retain that title.

Mysterious mysteries of death still surround us and can only be attributed to a deadly herb potions used that are undetectable from modern forensic methods. A sinister side to herbs can be seen with this scenario, again fact. Herb Power - Good and EvilThere is a fine line between potions of death and potions of enhancements. If you look at the herbs used in athletic and sports that are also undetectable but give such an unfair advantage in many cases. Or is it unfair to use natural product to give enhance performance? Where will this all end?

The whole point is to respect the power of herbs and their uses. The word herb to many is a kind and unassuming picture, which conjures up health benefits and good natural living, but herbs also have a dark side. With this is comes equilibrium, a balanced state, but then we are looking at nature here and nature is all about balance.

Good and evil comes in all forms, even with herbs and this we must respect and try and understand and maintain our knowledge and understanding.

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