Video Vlog on our garden for 2019. We have lots of changes in the garden!
10 Easy Plants to Grow From Seed
It’s the end of May here in Connecticut, and how is your garden doing? Things here are painfully slow going here. We’ve had a wet, cold spring and in between rainstorms, we’ve been busy rebuilding the yard and changing some things around for easier maintenance. We’re not as young as we used to be and its time to transition the gardens into the next phase of its life. More perennials and fewer annuals.
To add insult to injury, this winter’s brutal polar vortex combined with the wet, cold spring has taken its toll on our garden. Many trees, flowering bushes, and lavenders didn’t survive. My hubby has been busy digging up the deceased and replacing with new softwood bushes and flowering plants. I’m amazed at the extent of the damage. Mother Nature can be so cruel!
I’ve been surveying the raised bed area and figuring out what new perennial herbs I can plant that will survive our crazy winters. My big experiment will be seeing if I can grow old fashioned big bush roses. I’m planting them in the largest raised bed we have. Winter freeze will be a huge concern since the beds are above ground. Will the roots overwinter in a raised bed? I don’t know, so stay tuned…
In the greenhouse, we ripped out the aquaponics system and reverted the 2 beds back to dirt. I planted more rosemary and experimenting with scented geraniums. The variety I’m starting with is “Rose of Attar”. The leaves really do smell like roses! If they survive the winter, they will be a wonderful addition to my herb garden.
Time Well Spent!
The good news is, the time spent waiting for storms to pass and temperatures to rise has been productive. I’ve been working on the last bits of my garden book. It will be published sometime this summer titled “My Garden Journal” (although, the title may change…I’m currently playing with different titles).
I started journaling my gardens 20 years ago to remind me what worked and what didn’t from one season to the next. Gardening is a journey – your yard is an ever-changing ecosystem and I found that journaling gave me a higher success rate.
My personal journal evolved over time. It wasn’t fancy, just a list of plants and comments in the margins of how things went during the growing season.
However, when I was teaching children how to garden, I discovered by accident, my journals were a great teaching tool. My simple journal pages made the perfect outline for the curriculum I was creating. I took what I learned from these very talented students and reworked the format. The results were a simple easy to follow garden journal for children (and adults too!)
In addition to the journal pages, I also added other useful sections. For example, Parts of a Plant, Themed Gardens, How to Make Compost Tea and 10 Easiest Plants to Grow from Seed. These sections were designed to give young gardeners basic tools to be successful in their first years of gardening.
Excerpt from “My Garden Journal”
Here is the section from the book on the “10 Easiest Plants to Grow from Seed”.
Arugula is a small leafy green that has a peppery taste. It makes a perfect addition to salads and pasta recipes. To get ideas on how to prepare this green, do an online search. There are lots of recipes to pick from.
Arugula can be direct seeded into the ground and prefers to grow in cooler temperatures and is best grown in early spring and late summer into fall skipping the hottest part of the growing season.
Basil is an excellent herb to grow. Basil does not do well if direct seeded into the soil. Start your seeds indoors in small containers and then transplant outside when it’s warm enough.
When the plant gets big enough, pick the leaves off to add to a fresh tomato salad. Dry the leaves and save them for your herb and spice collection. There is nothing better tasting than homegrown basil in spaghetti sauce!
Basil prefers hot weather and full sun and best-grown late spring through the hottest part of the summer. Make sure the flowers are pinched off frequently for a bushier plant, which will produce more leaves.
If you are growing this plant in a container, water frequently. Plants grown in containers dry out quicker than plants grown in the ground or in raised beds.
Microgreens are 5 to 10 day old baby plants that you can harvest and eat. Don’t confuse them with sprouts which are seeds that have sprouted in water and then eaten. The difference is to grow microgreens you must plant them in potting soil or some sort of growing medium sprout them and then harvest the plant.
These baby plants are high in nutrition and can be grown on a kitchen counter with no sunlight. They are the perfect plants for a kitchen garden.
The easiest microgreens to grow are:
- Spicy mustard greens
Cucumbers are a gardener’s summer favorite. Make sure you have plenty of room to grow these plants; they like to spread their vines everywhere. Do an online search
to learn how to save space by growing up. There are many ideas on how to build simple trellis’ using materials such as long sticks and twine.
Cucumber seeds can be direct seeded into the ground in late spring, or can be started indoors (early spring) in small containers and transplanted into the garden when it’s warm enough.
5. Green Beans
These are one of the easiest plants to grow, and you get a lot of beans in return for your work. They can be direct seeded in the ground late spring. Beans like to grow in direct sun and love hot temperatures.
When researching seeds, make sure you know which kind of beans you’re buying. There are bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans don’t need any trellising. Just plant and watch them grow and harvest them when big enough.
Pole beans need a trellis to climb on.
6. Green Onions
Green onions are tall, green and white stalks and they are fun to grow. Patients will be essential, because they may take most of the growing season before you can harvest them.
Green onions grow well in containers but need frequent watering during hot weather. They are a perfect vegetable to grow if you have a spot that has partial shade. Direct seed in early spring and keep watering. Onions take many weeks before they sprout. So be patient.
Onions also do well if left in the garden over winter. Once the garden bed is established, they will self-seed (the seeds drop into the garden bed after they flower), and new plants will grow the next season.
There are many kinds of kale to grow, so do your research on which varieties will grow well in your area. Kale likes cooler temperatures but will tolerate some heat if the plants are well established.
Kale is another plant that can be stared in early spring and late fall and will tolerate colder temperatures until a hard freeze or even snow. These can be direct seeded into the ground.
Dinosaur Kale is a good recommendation if you are looking for tender leaves, which are perfect for salads. If you want to grow big leaf varieties like Red Russian Kale, their leaves are perfect for making crispy kale chips – which are like potato chips. Yum!
Peas are another early spring and fall plant to grow and can be direct seeded into the ground. My peas never make it to the kitchen because I eat them right off the vine while working in the garden. They make a great snack!
These plants require something to climb on otherwise they will grow in a heap of strings on the ground.
There is nothing more satisfying than a fresh picked homegrown tomato! They are gardener’s pride and joy! Do your research on what kind, or color you want to grow. There are hundreds of varsities to pick from and you need to know the difference between an Indeterminate and Determinate tomato variety.
For beginner gardeners, I would recommend not growing tomatoes in the heirloom (or determinate category) until you are an experienced gardener. Heirloom tomatoes taste great but can be very temperamental if the plants don’t get an even amount of water and sustaining hot temperatures. They are also prone to disease and fungal problems.
If the plants get stressed this results in what is called end rot or blossom rot. The tomato is not ripe enough to pick but instead starts rotting on the bottom of the fruit and the falls off the plant. Once a plant starts producing rotten fruit the problem cannot be fixed. The plant must be pulled out of the ground and thrown away.
I recommend varieties like “Big Beef” or “New Girl” for a nice evenly round healthy tomato and are perfect for sandwiches or salads. These varieties are what is called “Indeterminate” hybrids and are not prone to disease or fungal problems.
There are smaller tomato varieties you can grow too. Grape and cherry tomatoes produce a lot of fruit and are fun to grow. Make sure you share with friends and family if you have too many.
Indeterminate Tomato: Tall plants that require staking for trellis and will keep producing fruit up until first frost.
Determinate Tomato: A bush variety that is low and compact and doesn’t require staking. These plants grow a certain number of fruit and then the plant stops growing and dies. Unlike the indeterminate tomatoes where the plant continues to produce fruit until it’s too cold. Heirloom tomato varieties are determinate plants.
I recommend you start your seeds indoors in small containers and then transplant into the garden in late spring. Do not direct seed into the ground the seeds will have difficulty sprouting. Tomatoes need full sun and plenty of hot temperatures.
Sunflowers are beautiful and can be a showy centerpiece to any garden. The good news is sunflowers now come in many different sizes. These are a perfect plant to direct seed into the garden.
There are shorter more compact varieties that produce multiple flower heads that are smaller. These are great for flower bouquets.
The tall varieties like Royal Hybrid produce one big flower and need lots of sun. Make sure your seeds are organic if growing these flowers for bird food and don’t spray your plants with pesticides or herbicides. Chemicals hurt the birds and wildlife that will live among your plants in the garden.
At the end of the season, cut the flower heads and dry them. The birds will appreciate a nice snack when there is little food to forage on during the cold winter months.
Happy Spring! It’s Time To Eat Your Dandelion Greens!
Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan
Happy Spring!! Astronomically speaking that is. But that doesn’t mean its warm outside and flowers are blooming here in New England. Mother-nature can be cruel sometimes and tease us mercilessly with a beautiful warm sunny day and dump a foot of snow the next.
So technically (at least around here) we wait until the end of April to officially declare spring. In the meantime, if you live in a similar climate as we do, why not begin work on your winter body now. So when the warmer weather is here to stay, you’re looking and feeling pretty darn good!
On another note, did you also know that today is also International Happiness Day? What are you happy about? Post it in the comments below. I’d love to know.
I’m happy that today is a bright, warm sunny day. This is the first day I opened the greenhouse to cool things off and bring in some fresh air. I’m excited that soon, I’ll be back in the garden planting this seasons herbs and flowers for our Farm to Bath herbal bath and body products. Cue the confetti… Whoohoo!
It’s Our Ancestors Fault Or Is It?
According to scientists we consume an additional 200 calories per day during the long winter months because of low levels of Vitamin D. Other researchers believe its part of our DNA we inherited from our ancient ancestral relatives.
Back in the day eating more calories was critical to surviving a long winter. The more “fluffier” our relatives were the better chances they survived the cold, harsh winters than the skinny rail thin ones. Remember there were no McDonalds or grocery stores to supply them with food when it ran out.
They either starved to death, froze to death, or survived on their reserved body fat. It was survival of the fittest or in this case the fluffiest. Thank goodness we don’t have to live that way anymore and can control our environment and what we eat!
Whatever the reasons we gain weight, come spring, what goes on, must come off. Whether it’s our DNA flipping its hibernation switch (my analogy) or we’re getting more Vitamin D because the days are longer. Our body is telling us its ready to shed the extra pounds.
What Are Detoxifying Foods?
There is a whole industry devoted to detoxifying one’s body, and sometimes it can be confusing and misleading. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is some middle ground without committing to a strict detox cleanse and spending hundreds of dollars for someone to tell you what you already know. Stop eating junk!
There’s no one size fits all to detoxing. You just need to be aware of what you’re eating. I call it “conscious eating.” Eat more plant-based foods and herbs. Eliminate foods high in sugar, fat, carbohydrates, and processed foods.
Here is a general idea of what a detox lifestyle looks like. Typically there are 3 goals:
“(1) to remove potentially “toxic” foods, (2) to eat a simple diet so that detox organs like the liver can focus less on digestion and more on detoxification, and (3) to increase your consumption of water and foods that encourage the detoxification organs to do their job more efficiently.”
Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97
Just stated, eat a simpler diet, especially in the spring. This is when your body is ready to shed its winter weight. This may be the reason why trying to stay fit during the winter is like pushing a car uphill. Your body isn’t listening because you may be Vitamin D deficient and its in hibernation mode.
Don’t get me wrong, weight loss can be made at any time of the year, but it’s tough to fight those comfort food cravings during the cold winter months if you’re low on Vitamin D. Just be aware of what you’re eating and have a plan.
Talking to your doctor is also a good idea. Have your Vitamin D levels checked as a precaution. It’s important to have a baseline, so you know if your weight gain is related to a Vitamin D deficiency.
I get mine checked annually, and my doctor adjusts my Vitamin D supplement dosage as necessary. The bad news is as I get older, my Vitamin D levels drop too severely low levels during the winter months; which is triggering other health problems.
The good news is, all of this is in my control. My doctor tells me I can mitigate any future damage by merely getting outside and walking and eating more nutrient-dense foods.
After doing a lot of research on winter weight gain and Vitamin D deficiency, I found some detox and weight loss friendly herbs and vegetables that are nutrient dense that I’ve added to my diet. I thought this would be helpful to you in achieving your own health goals.
Detox Friendly Foods:
Dandelion (greens, flower and/or root)
Garlic and Onions
Mushrooms (cooked in Broth)
Flax and Chia Seeds
Culinary Herbs and Spices (especially Turmeric)
Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97
All of these foods listed can play a superstar role in detoxing your body naturally and should be easy to incorporate into your diet daily. However, there is one green that is a real Superhero. It hits 3 of the most common health goals most people want to achieve.
Dandelion Greens – The Superhero Green!
Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan
I love this green and try to incorporate it into my diet as much as possible. It’s one of the few herbs that does so much good for the body. A once favorite herb/green during the Great Depression, it hardly gets a mention in herbal and culinary circles today. But, there are still a few diehard fans out there.
According to Rosemary Gladstar, International Herbalist, this green is:
“… One of the most widely used herbs in the world, dandelion is highly respected, both for its preventative and for its remedial qualities…”
Herbal Healing for Women, Rosemary Gladstar, 28
The dandelion chemical composition focuses its energy on nurturing the kidney and liver. The most significant health benefit I discovered is dandelions act like a diuretic.
Unlike, synthetic diuretics, that deplete the body of potassium which can cause other health issues, such as muscle weakness, fatigue, digestive issues, just to name a few problems. Dandelions are high in potassium and replace K naturally at the same time helping the liver and kidneys eliminate excess water and toxins.
Health Benefits Specifically For Women:
In some women, hormonal changes can have severe effects on their bodies. Research suggests that eating dandelion leaves and roots during a woman’s menstrual cycle can help with bloating, PMS and breast tenderness.
Also, dandelions are also known as a bitter. Bitter greens help stimulate the bile in the stomach which encourages better digestion, which detoxes the body and helps with elimination.
This can be important for women who have issues with cravings, bloating and constipation during their cycle. This green can help move things along and reduce some of the discomforts.
Personally, I can gain up to 20 pounds of water weight during my moon cycle. To help reduce the fluid buildup, and the uncontrollable cravings, I’ll take dandelion root supplement daily. I make sure I drink plenty of water and eat fresh dandelion greens several times a week to help flush my system. This keeps things moving through my intestines which is reducing the pressure in my stomach and back. Think of your body as a deflating balloon.
In addition, I cut back on the amount of gluten, starches/carbs (e.g., bread, pasta, white potatoes, white rice, and corn) and the worst offender for PMS sugar!
Move That Body!
Dandelions are rich in Vitamin A, C, Iron and Calcium which are essential for healthy bones among other things. This is important for a woman who is menopausal or has been diagnosed with osteopenia which can happen to women over the age of 50.
Also, moving your body is essential to dropping that winter weight.
Our ancient ancestors didn’t continue sitting around when the snow melted. They got outside and started hunting and gathering to feed their family. So you’re already genetically programmed to move! No excuses here…
I try and go for a walk for at least 45 minutes to an hour a day. If I can’t get that much time in, I’ll find 20 minutes somewhere and jump on the treadmill and do a quick 20. I don’t have a perfect record, but I try to get more days in than not.
If you don’t have a treadmill, do circles around your coffee table, around your kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or in your yard, whatever. Just get moving and work up to an hour, its better than doing nothing. I promise you’ll feel better.
Dandelions Achieve 3 Health Goals:
- It is a bitter, that helps get a sluggish gut’s digestive juices moving. Yes, pooping is good for you when trying to lose weight!
- It’s a natural diuretic that doesn’t deplete your body of potassium and other essential nutrients. Dandelions are naturally high in potassium, Vitamin A, C, Iron.
- It’s perfect for bone health, especially for those who are diagnosed with osteopenia. Dandelions are naturally high in Calcium.
Honestly, I haven’t found another green that can do so much good for one’s body. It truly is a Superhero Green!
Dandelion greens can be eaten raw, sautéed or steamed. I often add them to a brown rice dish or just saute them in a little olive oil and garlic which is my favorite way to eat them.
If you’re interested in eating them wild, the best time to harvest them is in the spring and early autumn. Make sure when harvesting that no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides have been sprayed or sprinkled on them. So please be careful if you decide to harvest wild dandelions.
Otherwise, you can pick them up fresh at your local health food store or grow them yourself. There are seed company’s that sell the seeds. Just do an online search.
According to the Flavor Bible, dandelions go great with the following foods:
Dandelion Greens with Salsa Verde
Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan
2 – 3 pounds dandelion greens, roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Salsa Verde Sauce:
Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan
1/3 cup parsley chopped fine
Zest of a graded lemon
2 garlic cloves pounded into a puree
1 tablespoon drained, rinsed and finally chopped capers
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice or champagne vinegar
Mix ingredients in a bowl and set aside for flavors to blend together. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature first, then drizzle over greens toss well, before serving.
Note: This recipe is enough for several dishes. Only use a tablespoon or so on these greens. Refrigerate the rest.
Dandelion Greens Cooking Instructions:
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat gently infuse
the olive oil with the chopped garlic. Don’t burn the garlic!
Add dandelion greens and sauté until greens are wilted. Salt and
pepper to taste.
Drizzle a tablespoon of the salsa verde over greens and give a quick toss and then serve.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, if you have questions about your health please consult with a licensed medical professional. The information in this article is for educational purposes and not meant to treat or diagnose any medical conditions.
Links within this posting are affiliate links to Amazon
Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97
WebMD, What is Osteopenia? DerSarkissian, C
The Flavor Bible, Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg, 175
Herbal Healing for Women, Rosemary Gladstar, 28
The Woman’s Herbal Apothecary, JJ Pursell, 167
The Art Simple Food, Alice Waters, 45
Why you get fatter in winter… even though you eat LESS, Laura Topham for the Mail on Sunday, dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2052975
New Online Store
Thompson Street Farm LLC has spun off its soap / bath and gift products to a new website and store. We now have a new look, and store.
I will be doing business as Farm to Bath and the new website is www.farmtobath.com. There will be new products added going forward, so make sure you comeback and check out the site. With this new site I can now offer reasonable shipping fees, special promotions and best of all SALES! I am very excited.
Please check out my new store and let me know what you think!
Thompson Street Farm
dba Farm to Bath
Anatomy of TSF Soap
I’m always humbled and grateful when asked to speak about what I do here on Thompson Street Farm. This week I was the speaker at a local garden club here in town and I have to say what a wonderful group of ladies! I understand there are 5 garden clubs in town, and this particular club has been together for over 30 years. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience there was sitting in that room! How cool!
After my presentation on growing micro-greens, a sweet woman asked about how I made my soaps. She identifies handmade soap to her childhood elderly neighbor, Mrs. Jones, peddling her soap door to door. Apparently her soap was extremely harsh that one lost a few layers of skin when using it. I’m guessing from the age of my new friend, “Mrs. Jones” learned how to make soap between World War I and the Depression. In those days, there weren’t a lot of choices for oils other than animal fats and other moisturizing ingredients – which explains the harshness of her soap.
Today there is a world of difference between commercial soaps and handmade. Technically commercial soap is not real soap but a detergent that is created from petroleum based products . Yes, the base ingredient in commercial soap is petroleum oil!
My Decision to make Handmade Soap
(Lavender Soap made with lavender grown on our property)
When I began researching how to make soap it was out of necessity. I had been purchasing a goat’s milk soap from an independently owned health food store for my daughter. My daughter had a stroke before she was born and as a result she is missing 80% of her right brain, so we had many health issues to deal with. She is also a beautiful redhead with extremely sensitive skin. It didn’t matter which commercial soap I used, her skin was as red as her hair and irritated – similar to the reaction to Mrs. Jones soap!
Perfumes were also a huge problem for my daughter. It is not uncommon for children that have severe brain damage to have an over-reactive sensory system. I can only explain it as standing in front of a speaker at rock concert 24 /7. The brain’s sensory system is on overload it can’t filter out and dial down what’s going on around them. If you stop and think about it, our world is pretty noisy. For Katie as a baby, sound, smell and textures was magnified a billion times over.
Its an understatement that the early days for Katie were painful – everything bothered her. For example, my husband loved Irish Spring Soap, but when he came near her she would become overwhelmed and started to scream and cry. We went through a period of time when I dumped every commercially made product including the toothpaste and toilet paper and we went O-Natural! Thankfully, Katie is much better thanks to years of therapy.
The Decision to Make My Own Soap:
(Pine Soap – pine needles are harvested from our own pine trees and now that I’m becoming a herbalist, I’m adding my own pine infused olive oil to this soap!)
When Wholefoods moved to town our small independent health food store went out of business and that ended my source for handcrafted goat’s milk soap. The good news is soap making had become popular and with YouTube at my fingertips, I decided it was time to take control of our soap supply and learn how to make soap.
When I started my research I had a basic list of requirements:
- The soap had to be moisturizing, have a great lather but be a firm enough that didn’t melt into a pile of goo in the shower.
- Ingredients had to be mild enough for daughter’s sensitive skin.
- Oils for the soap had to be found in the grocery store and had to come from the plant world.
- Scents need to be from the plant world (correction/clarification from original posting: I do use fragrance oils if essential oils are not available, too expensive, or I happen to like the scent!).
I knew I wanted my soap to have at lease 2 oils that were great for skin, olive oil and coconut oil. After weeks of research, my first generation master soap recipe was born and it was a Mediterranean inspired blend using 4 oils and raw goats’ milk.
- Olive oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
- Coconut oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
- Canola Oil – creates a stable lather and a great skin conditioner.
- Safflower Oil – creates a wonderful lather and is a great skin conditioner.
- Herbs, flowers, vegetables and goats milk had to be either grown by me or acquired by a local farmer that shared my socially responsible beliefs.
During my research, I learned there is a minefield related to certain common ingredients in soap making. The biggest one is palm oil, and the atrocities associated to the destruction of rainforests to meet the worlds demand for palm oil.
I admit, my soaps are not for everyone, but I can honestly say I try to be socially conscious and intentional on where my ingredients are sourced. It is important to my daughter’s wellbeing and to me. I want to create a product that is safe; with no chemicals or preservatives.
New Sea Salt and Mineral Clay Inspired Soap with Avocado Oil
I have to say I have the best customers! They are intelligent, well-traveled and socially conscious and they are challenging me to take my social responsibility even further! Over the summer I heard a few concerns expressed about how canola oil is grown and processed. Canola oil comes from a plant called rapeseed and most of the crop grown in the world is from GMO seed. Since I refuse to use GMO vegetable seeds on my farm it was an easy decision to do the right thing and switch out that oil and substitute it for sunflower oil.
In addition, I did some more research on the benefits of sea salt and mineral clays in soap. Out of that research I created a new 4 oil sea salt soap using avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in vitamins A, B, D, and E. Sea salt is known for its relaxing properties and is a natural detoxifier as well as some of the mineral clays that I use – Dead Sea Clay, French Green Clay, Bentonite Clay and Moroccan Clay.
So I say to my new” Garden Club Friend” – try my soaps, I think you will be pleasantly surprised just how good you will feel! Please check out my entire line of soap on website online store.
(Honey, Cinnamon and Carrot Soap – I purchase my honey from a local farmer. Although I might get brave and purchase a hive in the coming year.)
Flower & Garden Show 2015
If you have cabin fever from all this snow and extremely cold weather come on down to the CT Flower Show and warm up by thinking about spring! Starting today through Sunday I will be at the CT Flower & Garden Show. I will have a sampling of my best selling soaps plus, lavender sugar scrubs, lavender body sprays and herbal salves.
PLUS! Show offer only! Interested in turning your backyard or small plot of land into cash? Off is only good during the show get $50.00 off my next full day SPIN Farming workshop March 14th from 9 – 4 in South Glastonbury. Show price $150.00 normally $200.00.
Pine Trees and their Medicinal Uses
As a child growing up in California, I loved to hear the breeze through the Ponderosa pines. Because these trees are so tall (over 230 feet high), there is a distinct sound that I’ve not heard in any other forest that I’ve walked through. That airy sound of the breeze through the trees is what I miss most about my home state. Then there is the smell of pine, which makes me feel refreshed, calm and at peace.
Until recently I didn’t know that pine (all species) have medicinal properties which have been used for centuries by Native American tribes.
Native American’s have been using Pine Medicinally for Centuries
Native American tribes in this region used all parts of the tree for medicinal purposes. A bark decoction for coughs and colds was used by the Abanaki, Iroquois, Micmac, Mohegan and Shinnecock tribes. Bark was also used as a poultice for colds by the Algonquin and for cuts and wounds by the Chippewa. A pitch pine drawing salve was made by the Delaware and Ontario people just to name a few of its many medicinal uses. (HANE: Herbarium, pinus strobus L.)
Here in Connecticut we have White Pine which is a shorter scruffier tree than its cousin the Ponderosa. And, today, pine needles and bark are harvested and dried for use in teas, tinctures and infused oils. Pine resin is the golden jewel of the tree as it has incredible healing properties. White Pine has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant, diuretic, antibacterial, stimulant, antispasmodic and astringent properties.
Eating my first Pine Needles
Have you ever tasted a pine needle? After our last big snow fall, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day to go out for a walk through our woods to harvest pine needles for my pine soap and salve. I decided to try a needle. Honestly, it was nothing to write home about. It tasted like a pine needle. I had read pine needles are high in Vitamin C and boosts the immune system. I read that not every pine tree species tastes the same. The author encouraged readers to try different trees and go with the one you liked best. However, since I only have one species of trees on our property, what I tasted was what I tasted – pine and I’ll have to take her word that not all pine trees taste the same…
Making my First Batch of Infused Pine Oil
This was the fun part – after harvesting enough pine needles, I loaded up my crock pot and added my oil. As I turned on my crock pot, I was struck by a thought! How would a pine marinade work for chicken. I decided to adapt a recipe for pine needle salad dressing into a marinade. My husband is such a good sport about this stuff – I knew it wouldn’t faze him in the least. I was right – after 20 years of eating my “experiments” what’s a few pine needles with dinner.
The final results were OK – I think I would prefer the chicken barbequed to add a little natural smoky flavor with the pine marinade rather than baked. So I will try this recipe again when the weather gets warmer. However, my husband thought the chicken tasted great.
White Pine makes wonderful Soaps and Salves
I love working with pine. I’ve perfected my drying technique so the pine needles keep their beautiful green color in my soap. The needles also add a great natural exfoliatant, which is another plus. All the benefits of pine, plus a four oil soap recipe make a well balanced soap.
The pine infused oil is another bonus as it can be used in many applications such as salves which is moisturizing for extremely dry skin. The pine salve will also promote healing of small scratches, cuts, burns and other minor skin irritations. During these bitter cold winter months I need something like this as my hands take a beating. They get so dry and cracked (sometimes bleed) that the salve had been a perfect remedy.
I just love pine trees!
Fresh Chopped Green Onions
I always leave plenty of green onions to overwinter in the garden because, in the spring, it’s a treat to be able to go out and harvest them to add to my salad and/ or salad dressings. Over the years, I’ve created a few short cuts so I have onions ready to go into whatever I’m making.
Chop by hand
If you don’t want to chop the onions by hand, an easier way is to chop them in a food processor – the goal is to chop the greens into small pieces.
The food processor chops the onion into really fine pieces.
Finely chopped onions make great additions to salad dressings.
They are perfect to add to add to hamburger or meatloaf dishes.
Chopped onions are also perfect in a fresh salad.
Fresh green onions in a container store well in the refrigerator so they are always ready when I need them.
My Homework – Lemongrass Tea
As a Christmas gift to myself, I enrolled in the Herbal Academy of New England, an online educational program for those who want to become herbalists and/or anyone who is interested in herbs. I am thrilled and excited to add an academic understanding of herbs and how they interact in their various forms.
I’ve discovered that ideas of how and where you can use herbs are limitless! We can create teas, tinctures, poultices, essential oils, soaps, creams, syrups, and salves. We can also use them in our cooking, baking, jams, jellies, vinegars, oils, honey, salts, mix them with other herbs or simply munch on a sprig right off the plant.
Until now, my education was limited to reading books, the Internet and talking to my Naturopathic doctor. Once 20 years ago, I also took a guided hike on identifying wild edible plants. All I can remember from that day was the ability to identify Yarrow (a popular flower used for medicinal purposes) and tasting some uninspiring grassy, sometimes bitter tasting weeds. Ick!
The first lesson in my program involves making a medicinal tea from whatever I have on hand. Since I grow a lot of herbs on my small farm, I have many options. Needing an herb to test, I grabbed one of the many large paper grocery bags on my counter filled with herbs, opened it and discovered that I picked lemongrass. I had never used this herb before so I decided to try it.
Back-story on my poor little Lemongrass plant – It’s a Miracle!
Lemongrass is a new herb on my farm. Last winter, I found a catalog company that had a sale on plants and, at the time; it seemed to be a good deal. Who can resist a sale! The plant arrived on life support (obviously the reason for the sale) and it was clear that the plant didn’t have much, if any, time left. However, deep in the core of this dried up grassy blob; I found a little green stem. Since maybe there was some hope, I figured I’d plant it vs. tossing it into the compost pile. I placed it into a corner of a raised bed already pretty full of mints, sage and oregano, blessed the little plant and left it at that.
During the summer, it got watered (when I remembered…) and to my surprise that scraggly dried up little grassy thing started to grow! By the end of summer, it had shot up over 36 inches and was taking over the corner of its raised bed.
Before the first freeze, I cut the plant back down to its original size (a few inches tall) bound the cut grass into bunches and stuffed it into a grocery store paper bag to dry. I tossed the bag on my kitchen counter where it’s been since fall. I honestly had no clue as to what I was going to do with the grass. A couple of thoughts surfaced
(possibly soap or a seasoned salt) but no decision.
My Research on Lemongrass
(Disclaimer: I am not a health expert and have no medical training. The purpose of this article is not to diagnose and/or treat medical issues. This is for informational purposes only. If you have questions regarding your health, please consult with a medical physician)
According to Healthers.org lemongrass has some great medicinal properties. Here is an excerpt from their website:
- Powerful pain relieving properties. It helps to alleviate muscle spasms by relaxing the muscles thereby leading to the reduction of pain-related symptoms.
- Is useful for all types of pain including abdominal pain, headaches, joint pains, muscle pains, digestive tract spasms, muscle cramps, stomach ache and others.
- Can be linked to increasing the body’s ability to repair damaged connective tissue such as cartilage, ligaments and tendons and is thus recommended for these types of injuries.
- Improvements in blood circulation.
- Its antifungal and antibacterial, lemongrass inhibits bacteria and yeast growth.
- It is useful for gastrointestinal infections and may also be applied externally to wounds as it fights germs.
- As an antioxidant, lemongrass contributes to liver and pancreatic health by helping the body to more quickly remove toxins.
- It has also being linked to lowered or normalized cholesterol levels.
- It also treats digestive issues including gastro-enteritis and may be helpful in relieving constipation.
- Some sources suggest that lemongrass has antidepressant properties and is thus beneficial for nervous and stress-related conditions.
- It is said to be helpful in alleviating anxiety and depressive symptoms. It helps to strengthen the nervous system and may thus be useful for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
- The presence of Vitamin A in lemongrass makes it helpful for skin issues such as acne pimples.
- It helps to brighten the skin and eyes and clear up oily skin, thus improving acne.
- Its antibacterial property is also valuable for skin infections. Lemongrass may improve poor body odor by controlling excessive sweating.
- One research study conducted at Ben Gurion University in Israel found that the citral found in lemongrass has possible benefits in inhibiting cancer. It revealed that this compound may contribute to the death of cancer cells with no noted negative effect on normal cells.
In addition, I wasn’t surprised to learn that lemongrass is a great culinary herb and is very popular in Asian cuisine. According to the book “20,000 Secrets of Tea: The Most Effective Ways to Benefit from Nature’s Healing Herbs” by Victoria Zak, lemongrass, as a tea, is one of the tried and true herbs for added flavor and synergy. It’s often used in tea blends to enhance and balance flavors of multiple tea herbs.
In herbal basic training, one must know how to make medicinal teas. I learned that medicinal teas have a higher tea to water ratio. In addition, commercial teas in tea bags have little to no medicinal value because there isn’t enough of the herb in the tea bag to make a difference. If you are looking for a health benefit from commercial tea, buy loose leaf.
I discovered that lemongrass tea has a wonderful strong lemony taste with a back note of grass and I was surprised how much I liked it. As I sipped my cup of tea, I began to think about the possibility of using this tea in a soap recipe along with the dried lemongrass. I already make herbal soaps using dried herbs and essential oils and wondered what would happen if I added tea to my recipe?
Not wanting to waste time, I dried the steeped lemongrass from my pot of tea, measured out enough tea for my soap recipe and began measuring / mixing the rest of my ingredients. My house smelled like the lemon groves I used to visit not far from my childhood home in Southern California. It was invigorating!
The soap is now curing and, as it will be a few weeks before I can test it, I’ll post an update in the coming weeks.
Lemongrass Tea Shrimp Scampi
Here I go again…. While cooking dinner that night, I was hit with another inspiration! My recipe for Shrimp Scampi called for lemon juice so I thought I would add the remaining lemongrass tea to my pan instead of lemon juice. It worked great and my husband, who is my official taste tester, gave me thumbs up!!
(Replaced the lemon juice with the tea)
The success of my experiments will result in my ordering more plants this spring so I can use lemongrass in even more products.