Monday, June 30, 2008

Coneflowers Coming On...

The Echinacea purpurea are coming into bloom now. Time to start gathering supplies to make a nice supply of tincture to have ready for the coming cold and flu season. Our family would not be without it. I use the flower heads, which have as much, if not more activity than the root. I don't want to destroy my precious plants by harvesting the roots, so I purchase good quality dried root from Mountain Rose Herbs and combine it with my fresh flowers to make a good potent tincture. When it's just the right time, I'll make sure you see it here!

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Brilliant blue sky
Blue borage flowers against the sky
First substantial harvest of blueberries
Beautiful blue hyssop flowers

Friday, June 27, 2008

Making Elderflower Syrup

We had a lovely first harvest of elderflowers on Wednesday! Afterwards the tiny flowers were carefully removed from the stems and stalks. This is a rather necessary task as the leaves and stems contain cyanide compounds.This obliging little fellow rolled on his back to show me his pollen bags and wave before he flew off. I must admit, this was a first. Perhaps he was drunk with nectar or the weight of the pollen threw him off balance. whatever the case, I was glad to see it!!
The flowers were then placed in a large pot with one part water and two parts organic sugar to cover. This lovely mixture was brought to a boil and then simmered on low for an hour.The heat was then turned off, the lid put on and the petals were allowed to infuse in the simple syrup overnight.At this point,an addition of a tablespoon of fresh lemon zest and lemon juice is also lovely, but optional.. The aroma is heavenly. The next morning, the flower syrup was strained through a cloth and colander and you bet, the cloth bag was squeezed dry of every drop of nectar!

I was loading up to be on my way to Kutztown, PA to set up a booth for the Kutztown PA German Festival and decided, since it was so hot, to make up a half gallon of this delicious, refreshing beverage for the road. I filled the jar with ice, then added one liter of Pelligrino water. After that I added the juice of two lemons, a half of cup of elderflower syrup and 3 tablespoons of elderberry syrup that was in the fridge. I topped it off with another near quart of Pelligrino water and a sprinkling of fresh elderflowers and gave it a good shake. oh my, was it sooooooo tasty. I will definitely make this again! And I'll have some fun photos from the Festival next week, as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Elders Abound!

elderflower nectar...yum
This is one of the elder shrubs (Sambucus nigra) growing in the you can see, they are abundant with flowers this year. Last year was a very poor year for flowers (hence berries, too!) so I did a little dead wood pruning in the early spring which I've never attempted before. I was a little hesitant to remove so much , but was more fearful of having another light berry year. Seems my efforts have been rewarded. Hard to tell from the photo , but these shrubs are easily 12 feet tall. The other patch of elders are planted behind the barn where it's a little more shady and moist. They are about two weeks behind the ones in the garden. Great news ! Harvesting and processing elderberries is a tedious labor of love, so having the season spread out is a real pleasure.The elders behind the barn are not quite as tall, but they are producing flower heads that are 14 inches across! These flower heads are ideal for harvesting now. Aren't they stunning? Click on the image to see them up close. They are just so pretty.I plan on making some elderflower cordial and elderflower 'champagne' after I pick them today. Stay tuned for that...This is one of two elders that I planted on the edge of the pasture (in hopes that the birds would enjoy these instead of mine... a good will offering of sorts). They are already passed bloom (except for those few stragglers there) and producing berries. The berries will be ready to harvest when they are nearly black/purple in color and pendulous.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Approaching Lavender

Stumbled upon this Gordon Lightfoot video and thought it appropriate to celebrate the first lavender wand of the season....ah, Provence...what it must smell like there on a warm breezy evening.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Solar-Infused St.John's Wort Oil...1-2-3

... otherwise known as Hypericum oil. The Latin name for St. John's Wort is Hypericum perforatum. Called 'Perforatum' for the teeny tiny pinpoint size 'perforations' in the leaves. You can see them if you hold the leaf up to the sky. Those pinpoint holes are identification marker #1. See those plump and juicy buds? They are ripe for the pickin', Bud.
Well, maybe it's not exactly 'pickin'.' Plucking and Pinching are better descriptive words. You'll notice that your pinching fingers will turn a lovely shade of crimson. This is identification marker #2. I like to pinch the buds just before I drop them into a small jar of olive oil that I keep close by the plant. Yes, it can get very tedious at times. You may only get a few buds everyday, but persistence is the key to get the desired results. Be sure to keep the lid on tight and elevate it slightly off the dirt so that it gets the full benefit of the blazing solar rays. (I use a small stool) It will need to remain out there for one month.
Before you start you should know that less oil is better. Trust me on this. It is better to have only a few drops of perfect St. John's Wort oil, than a whole quart of mediocre oil!
After one month in the sun, adding buds daily or every other day, you will be rewarded with an oil that is more precious than red, red rubies....well,okay, in the Farm at Coventry book, anyway. Deep red oil is the perfect identification (#3) of a very well made St. John's Wort oil. The red pigment in the flowers is called hypericin, one of the most useful compounds found in the plant. It is only available in abundance in the fresh flowers, disintegrating rapidly when dried.This is all that remains of the oil that I made last year. That is a good thing. Oops, sorry, Martha.I know you probably own the rights to that line now..but it is a very good thing to make just enough oil to last the whole year. After straining the oil through a fine strainer, label and store in a cool, dark cupboard. This is the first this oil has been in bright sunlight since last summer at this time!I like to use this as a massage oil to the neck, shoulders and spine area which is rich in nerve endings. And especially tail bones injuries...ouch! As you can probably imagine, there are alot of nerves there. The oil is useful for pinched, inflamed nerves, particularly sciatica.  I always add a few drops of essential oil of lavender to the finished oil, too. Goood stuff.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Solstice !

I believe I collected this quote from the Flower Essence Services book years ago, but I can't quite recall. And as luck would have it, I have loaned my book out and can't check my sources today. But I always think of this when the St. John's wort begins to bloom...

"At its deepest level of transformation, St. John’s Wort helps the soul to circulate light through the body and into the Earth. Rather than experiencing light as an external and merely physical reality, light works within the Self as a spiritual force which can illuminate and anchor the consciousness.
It was understood to be an ideal combination of water and fire, the ultimate healing essence. Fire symbolized the fruitful light-filled forces of summer, and water the gathering and settling forces of the dark season. Midsummer is the time of balance between these forces of light and dark."

Wow, makes sense that St. John's Wort would work for seasonal depression, doesn't it? Yeah, bringing warmth and light into those cold, dark corners of the soul...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Farmer's Market Debut

Finally set up the booth yesterday for my first Wednesday gig at the Mill at Anselma's brand new farmers market. What a nice venue! Quite alot of vendors and traffic for a market with such new beginnings. All was rosy for a few hours before the dark clouds started to roll in. I wasn't concerned because we were expecting a passing shower, but nothing severe was predicted. The showers became heavier and then we heard the distant rumbles. oh dear...the last few years of bad storms, high winds and tornadoes in the area have turned me from a thunderstorm lover into a thunderstorm coward. Hilda got this nice shot of me right before we got word of severe thunderstorm warnings for our area.I could see lightning strikes a few miles away so we packed up in record time and high-tailed it outa there about an hour early. I promise more market shots next time when my knees aren't knocking together so badly. It wasn't all a washout, however...saw some old and new friends, sold a lavender basket right out of my hand as I finished it, bought a really pretty vintage apron from Hilda and was interviewed by a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer doing an article about the market. oh yeah, and sales weren't too bad either!Here is my pal, Hilda and her aprons when we had our Saturday stand at the Phoenixville Farmer's Market. I don't know about you, but I am a big pushover for a nice, well-made apron. We used to call ourselves the "Feedsack Farmgirls". Not so sure that's an exactly flattering vision, but I still like it. Maybe we should revive it, Hilda. Whatdya think?

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Weekend in Snapshots

I love calendula and calendula loves me! Every year I find at least one heart shaped flower. Love when that happens.
On Saturday during class, we picked a gallon jar of flowers and covered them with olive oil. The jar will sit in the sun for one complete lunar cycle.
Herbal harvest pre-poultice pack for a boo-boo on Tara's foot. How could it not get better with a pretty bandage like that? There were plantain leaves, sage and thyme leaf, calendula and chamomile flowers and a few cloves of garlic (did I forget anything?) all smooshed up in the food processor and slapped on that tender booboo...ahhhh! green relief.
Plenty of Sun, Smiles and Sunbonnets

The MAN describing his tomato planting technique: deep bucket holes, sinking tomato plants to provide more vigorous root system, mulch well, dismember scratching hens and water once every two- three weeks. Which suggestion was he thinking but didn't utter out loud? well, at least not in front of our guests...hehheh.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Never too soon

It's never too soon to get the pretty new calendula flowers infusing in the olive oil. We experimented with two beds this year to see if we could get an earlier harvest. #1 is a total reseed bed. They just planted themselves. #2 is a bed that we planted early in March. It seems that it didn't make much difference other than the reseed bed (planting itself thickly) has quite a few more flowers to harvest this week than bed #2. Otherwise they bloomed simultaneously.
Beauties, aren't they?

'Does that sky look green to you??'

Holy smokes..what an night. It didn't translate well on digicam, but the sky was green last night.Lost power on the hottest day of the year to date. But was revived at 5 am when the power returned and the fan began to oscillate! oh sweet joy in the morning! Fortunate to have received the rain and good growth that comes from a few powerful thunder and lightning storms and so grateful that we didn't suffer the tree damage that many others did, even with apparent 80 mile an hour wind gusts. Great weeding and seeding day ahead. Then off to scout out my new venue at the Mill at Anslema's farmer's market later in the day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beyond the Garden..

Of course there are other things going on in the world! I'm just a little bit distracted by the garden. The Boy graduated from high school on Friday night. My sage advice to him...In the football game of life, it is always best to follow the path that's just a little off center. What? I'm giving this advice to a hockey player? Howz about 'Head up, shoulder down, full speed ahead. It's your ice, Baby....your game. Play hard. Go to sleep at night, sore and happy' ...yeah, that's better. He'll understand that advice.
It was a lovely sunset to all those high school years...
(insert sniffling mother sounds here)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Beyond the Roses...

of course there are a few other things going on out in the garden this week! I've just been a little bit distracted by the roses. The sage has had it's first small harvest and is due for another although the flowers are just spectacular on this Beirgarten variety

I see many lavender wands in my future on the Grosso and Provence...just harvested a nice bundle of Hidcote this morning, and the Munstead is close behind

Doesn't this lady with the camera EVER go inside???? Geesh, a little privacy please?

I'm thrilled to see my very first figAngelica seedsThe first elder blossoms have opened during this heat wave...ahh, the possibilities.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bella Rosa

Rose Petal JamIn a food processor pulse together:
2 cups fragrant rose petals
3/4 cup rosewater or water
juice of one lemon and 1 tsp lemon zest
Add 2 cups fine sugar to the food processor and pulse a few times until it is blended with the rose petals. Let sit. In a small saucepan, mix together 3/4 cup rosewater or water and a box of sure-jell. Whisk continuously until well blended while bringing the mixture to a full rolling boil. Keep whisking for one minute, then quickly pour into the rose petal mixture in the food processor. Pulse a few times. This will set up very quickly!! So be sure to have your jam jars sterilized and ready to fill. Seal with new lids. I put the sealed jars back in the canner for about 5 minutes to get a good seal so that I don't have to keep it all in the refrigerator. Recipe fills approx . 6 small jam jars.

Rosewater is simply made by packing a very clean jar with perfect petals early on a hot day. Cover petals with distilled water and close the lid tightly. Let the jar sit in the sun for one day. Strain the petals out in the evening and add a few splashes of vodka to your strained rosewater to prevent it from fermenting. Store in the refrigerator. Can be used for recipes and adding to the bath...or putting into pretty spray bottles to use on HOT days (like today) ....
Refreshing Rosehip and Spearmint Sparkler sweetened with Rose petal syrup and lotsa ice...ahhhhhhh!

Cute honeybees swarming the sun kissed roses

Twas a lovely rose filled day from the start...and it will end on a rosey note, as well. Rose water and milk mixed with rose petals for the bath, some more of that cool Rosehip sparkler and a few strawberries drizzled with rose petal syrup. Rose soap and cream...goes without saying.


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