Monday, December 31, 2007

It's Still Christmas

Don’t be too quick to put away those Christmas decorations. Christmas Day represents the first of the 12 days of Christmas, ending Jan 6 with Three Kings Day or the Epiphany. The three kings brought the Christ child the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Traditions for this day include blessing the doorways with water and inscribing the initials of the three kings (C+M+B for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) over the doorways.

I am always interested in the symbolism and use of foods and herbs in ritual. The gifts that the wise men or Magi brought to the Christ child have meaning; gold to represent his role as king, frankincense to represent his divinity, and myrrh to represent his humanity. Frankincense (Boswellia) and myrrh (Commiphora) refer to a resin from their respective trees. Both Frankincense and Myrrh resins are used as an incense that when burned will carry prayers to heaven. Frankincense is still used at Catholic masses for special occasions. Although we think of the gold brought by the wise men as the precious metal, gold could have other meanings. Some say it is symbolic of alchemy – a transition from the physical world to the spiritual world. I have also heard it suggested that gold referred to a specific type of frankincense that was more valuable. Perhaps celebrate Three Kings Day or the Epiphany by placing a small amount of these resins in your fire to scent your home. You could also burn herbs such as sage or rosemary to purify your home.

Other herbs that are used to celebrate the Christmas season include rosemary, costmary bay laurel, bedstraw, mistletoe and myrtle. The herbs bedstraw, chamomile, horehound, thym and sweet woodruff are said to have been mixed with the manger grass that Jesus slept in. You could mix these herbs to make a nice potpourri.

Its not too late to consider an herbal craft to commemorate the Christmas season. Even something as simple as putting sticks of clove into an orange or an apple is an enjoyable project for children or adults! A warm herbal bath is a way of purification and a way to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. Try using oregano and marjoram to help with aches and pains you may be feeling this season.

But the important thing is to keep caroling and enjoy the Christmas decoration now. Its nice to have this time to relax and enjoy the Christmas season after the hustle and bustle of preparations has ended. So if you didn’t have time to bake the Christmas cookies you wanted to before Christmas, go ahead and do it now, its still Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gingerbread Recipe

Its been unseasonably cold here in Colorado so what better way to warm one up than by eating gingerbread by the fire. I made small loaves of gingerbread to give my neighbors for Christmas (but shhh, don’t tell them yet). Gingerbread is packed with spices too keep you warm and to regulate blood sugar. Here is the recipe I used; it has been adapted from our local newspaper.

Gingerbread Cake

1 ½ cups flour (can mix white and whole wheat)

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons powdered ginger

2 teaspoons powdered cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch cayenne pepper

½ cup cold butter (or slightly less), cut into small pieces

1 egg

3 tablespoons molasses

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

Combine flour, sugar, and spices in a large mixing bowl. Slice butter into the flour mixture and mix with a pastry blender until crumbly. Scoop out ¼ cup and set aside to sprinkle on top later.

Stir egg and molasses into flour mixture. Combine buttermilk, baking soda and salt, then add to flour mixture stirring well

Pour batter into a greased 9-inch square pan; sprinkle reserved flour/butter mixture evenly over the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Keep Warm

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Herbs for Winter Health

During the winter months more of us tend to get upper respiratory tract infections such as colds and flu. There are ways to decrease your risk of becoming ill as well as to feel better if you do get sick. Even though antibiotics are often prescribed for winter illnesses, they are rarely the answer and they do not treat viral infections. With colds and flu we are often seeking relief from congestion and pain, as well as something to sooth the throat. Let's look at some herbs with those properties and how to use them.
Decongestant Herbs
One way to loosen and expel mucus is by inhaling vapors. When you feel congested try putting a pan of water on the stovetop at a light simmer. Add pieces of sage, thyme, rosemary or oregano to the water. Many of these common culinary herbs have healing properties. In fact, thyme has a long history of treating bronchitis and other upper respiratory tract infections (see Thyma-flu below). Inhale the steam frequently throughout the day to relieve congestion. Eucalyptus essential oil is also a strong decongestant. Put a few drops of this essential oil on the surface of the simmering water to release the vapors (see Eucalyptus essential oil below).
Congestion can also be relieved by drinking teas. Sometimes just a hot beverage is enough to help sooth, but teas of thyme or peppermint can also help loosen mucus. Make sure to inhale the steam as you are holding the cup. You can also use a balm on your chest both for pain and congestion that contains essential oils of eucalyptus, camphor, menthol, sage and peppermint (see Herbal Vapors below). Also hold this up to your nose to inhale.
Pain Relieving Herbs
For pain such as muscle aches associated with a cold try soaking in a hot bath with a muslin bag filled with herbs. Useful herbs here would include oregano, marjoram, lavender, mint or sage (see bath teas below). After soaking in the herbal bath, drink a tea from ginger and lemon. Pain can also prevent one from getting a good night sleep. A few drops of lavender essential oil sprinkled on your pillow or an herbal dream pillow tucked into your pillow case can help you relax to get more sleep (see Lavender Essential Oil and Dream Pillow below).
Throat Soothing Herbs
Herbs that sooth the throat typically have mucilage or slippery substances in them. They include slippery elm, horehound and licorice. You can often find lozenges that contain these herbs or make yourself a cup of hot tea from them. Honey also can sooth a throat and goes well with tea. During the summer try infusing honey with thyme so that you can use it during the winter in teas or on toast.
Preventing a Cold
A typical cold lasts 7 days to two weeks and adults get about 2-4 colds per year (more in children). We don't develop immunity to the cold because there are more than 100 different viruses that cause this. You can limit your risk of catching a cold by improving your immune system. Stress weakens the immune system and can lead to illnesses. Daily exercise such as walking can help control stress. Also try teas made from herbs such as catnip, chamomile, hops, lavender and lemon balm.
Immune building herbs you can use include garlic and whole foods including fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals such as flavonoids and sterols act as antioxidants that can modulate the immune system as well as provide a host of other benefits including decreasing inflammation. Garlic not only stimulates the immune system but acts as an antibacterial and antiviral. My favorite way of using garlic is to rub a clove over toast.
Keep Cold Germs from Spreading
The single most important thing you can do to decrease your risk of getting a cold and to decrease its spread is to wash your hands. Use of antibiotic soap is not necessary and may contribute to antibiotic resistant superbugs, but it is necessary to wash correctly. This means use warm water and soap, rub your hands for 15-30 seconds, rinse and dry with a clean towel. Humming a song while washing can help with estimating the time. Try "Ring Around the Rosey", its lyrics have to do with the plague which can be a good reminder of the importance of clean hands. The availability of clean water and soap has done more to prevent disease than antibiotics or vaccines ever have or will.

If someone in your household has a cold or flu you may want to pay special attention to cleaning surfaces in the house. For instance, light switches, doorknobs and counters should be regularly wiped to clean them of infectious agents. This can be done with soap and water or you can use disinfecting essential oils such as tea tree oil and thyme (see St. Blaise Spray below).
Sagescript Products for Winter Health
Thyma-flu: this make your own tincture is a mixture of antiviral and immune stimulating herbs. Add your own alcohol, steep for 2 weeks and keep on hand all winter to treat a variety of upper respiratory tract infections. Contains Echinacea, elderberries, thyme, peppermint and horehound. $4.25 makes 4 ounces of tincture when alcohol is added.

Eucalyptus essential oil: pure eucalyptus essential oil available in 0.5 oz size, $3.25.

Herbal Vapors: New this year! A chest balm containing menthol and essential oils of eucalyptus, camphor, sage and peppermint, $5.00 /2 oz.
Bath teas: we have a variety of bath teas available at any time. Inquire about availability. $3.95/4bags

Herb Teas: we hope to soon have a variety of herbal teas to choose from including those for a sore throat and to help you relax.

Lavender Essential Oil: pure lavender essential oil in 0.5 oz size, $5.75.

Dream Pillow: Large tea bag containing sleep promoting herbs for you to put in your pillow case. As your head rests the scent of herbs is released. $2.00/2 bags

St. Blaise Aromatherapy Spray: A room spray to spray on doorknobs, light switches and surfaces to decrease the spread of germs. Contains essential oils. $7.00/2oz.

Winter Health Care Essential package contains Thyma-flu, Herbal Vapors and St. Blaise all for $15.25.

Contact me by email for ordering information.
If you or someone you know is visiting Longmont, CO stop at the Francis Street Arts store, 1139 Francis Street. There you can find crafts by local artisans, including Sagescript Institute.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

First Snow

It’s a beautiful wintry day here in Colorado with our first big snow of the season which measures about 7 inches. We booted up and went cross country skiing across our pastures. We let the goats out – yes, goats, we just got 2 angora goats, and they followed us across the field running just like dogs! Not what I expected of goats.

We moved here to our property just this summer so every season brings new things.

In my semi-greenhouse I have saved over some of my plants as well as a few for my neighbor; thyme, geraniums, rosemary and petunias which are now in bloom! I just planted a tray of lettuce and hope to be eating it soon. In the next several weeks I will be deciding which herbs and plants I will need this summer and get some of them started in the greenhouse. A survey of the property this summer turned up some interesting plants; many bush cherries which I believe are Nanking cherries, an elderberry which didn’t produce many berries this summer but now that I know it’s there it will get a lot more water this coming summer, a few plum trees, asparagus, rhubarb and some raspberries. Not much was here in the way of herbs but I was able to transplant some from my old residence including lemon balm, rue, oregano, salad burnett, thyme, costmary, Artemisia and prunella to name a few.

My blog here will be about my new farm lifestyle and all that it entails. We grow herbs here and sell herbal products. We also have a few animals. I want to be able to not only farm sustainably, but to live sustainably also. Sometimes this is a hard thing to do with busy lives and children so compromises will be made. The important thing I think is to be conscientious and consider the options. Sometimes the right choice is not made, but there is always something to be learned.



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