Don’t Be a Tea Dragon!

When I’m talking to people about our teas at farmers markets there is one response that I hear fairly frequently, “I have so much tea at home”. Trying out new tea is wonderful.  But if you are just hoarding them like a tea dragon and not drinking them, it is time to do a little cabinet clearing and look at more ways to weave them into your life. 

There are so many ways to use tea, either Camellia sinensis in its black, white, and green modes, or herbal teas.  The following are just some ways to use up all that botanical wonderfulness.  Having said that, if your teas have been sitting on the shelf for longer than a year, even properly stored, first evaluate them to see if they should even be used.  If they look faded, “dusty”, or have lost their scent it is time to add them to the compost pile, and not the teapot.

  • Make a cocktail or mocktail.  This is a great place to experiment.  You can start with a strong infusion of your favorite teas, infuse the tea into a simple syrup to use in your drinks, infuse the tea directly into a spirit like gin or vodka, or infuse into a fruit juice you will use as a mixer. There are no rules here beyond what taste good. 
  • Use tea to infuse a brine for flavoring chicken or beef.
  • Add dry teas to your homemade soaps.
  • More of a latte kind of person?  Try a tea latte.  Steep 2 teaspoons of a favorite tea (herbal, or not) in ¾ cup of hot water.  Froth 1/3 cup of milk.  Stir milk into tea.  Add a sweetener, if you like.
  • Teas make an unexpected and tasty ingredient in cooking.  The Internet abounds with ideas for this, but as an example, try this recipe from Sunset magazine for Rooibos Butternut “Pizzettas”.

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoon rooibos tea leaves

2 medium-large butternut squashes

Drizzle of olive oil for baking sheets

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Pepper

2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives.

  • Preheat oven to 425°. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat and add butter and 1 tbsp. tea. When butter foams, remove from heat, cover, and let infuse 10 minutes. Strain butter through a fine sieve; discard tea.
  • Meanwhile, using a large, sturdy, sharp knife, cut off stems and seedless “necks” of squashes (save seeded parts for another use). Stand each neck on a flat side and slice peel off with 7 or 8 cuts, leaving a kind of octagonal shape. Cut necks into 1/2-in. slices. Lightly oil 2 baking sheets and place squash, slightly separated, on sheets.
  • Pulverize remaining 1 1/2 tsp. tea leaves (if already fine, skip this step). Mix with salt.
  • Brush infused butter onto tops of squash slices, then season with pepper and rooibos salt. Bake until very soft, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with chives.

(Sunset Magazine. “Rooibos Butternut “Pizzettas””, Accessed Sept 23, 2020,  https://www.sunset.com/recipe/rooibos-butternut-pizzettas)

  • Add teas to personal beauty products such as body scrubs.  A scrub, or polisher, is easy to make at home by combining 1 tablespoon of dried tea leaves to one cup of organic white or brown sugar, ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil, or almond oil, 2 tablespoons of honey and 10 drops of your favorite essential oil.
  • Love the smell of teas?  Use them in place of potpourri.  Place an open jar or bowl of tea in a closet or on a shelf to delicately scent the area.  Or pop into a net bag and add to a drawer (or gym bag…or car).  You can even gently simmer teas on the stove.
  • Another way to use up some of that collected tea?  Get a large glass jar with lid, fill it with cool water, add your tea (in a quantity to match the water, roughly 1 teaspoon of tea per cup of water), and place in a bright sunny spot until you see a nice rich brew.  Store your sun tea in the refrigerator and you can enjoy fresh ice tea anytime.  You can also do this and put the jar directly into the refrigerator to brew, but you will get a lighter brew.

So, stop collecting teas and start enjoying them more!

Blooming Artichoke Herbary (2020)

Yarrow, the Battlefield Boo Boo Butter

Yarrow (Achillea millifolium) is a decorative plant native to the temperate zones of North America, Europe and Asia and is commonly found in fields, pastures and ditches.  It’s use as a medicinal herb goes back thousands of years and the plant comes with a rich folklore history.  How many plants can claim a god keeps it in his first aid kit?  Well, actually quite a few.  But legend has it that the Achillea in Achillea millifolium is due to the god Achilles’ use of this plant to heal his soldiers’ wounds in battle (Ranson, 1954).  Historical and contemporary use of this plant include as a styptic to slow and stop bleeding and a vulnerary to promote wound healing, as well as a diaphoretic, astringent, tonic, stimulant and mild aromatic (Grieve, 1971).  These properties let to its use as to stop nosebleed, calm bleeding hemorrhoids, treat rheumatism and toothache, as a gargle for sore throat, to reduce blood pressure, and for relief from colds, bronchitis, coughs, asthma, fevers and catarrh (Grieve, 1971)(Dawson, 1980).

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The Milk Flowers of Spring, AKA Snowdrops!

Galanthus_nivalis_close-up_aka We’ve seen the first hard frost and the hardiest of the nursery stock has finally giving up the ghost for the season.  For me this is both a peaceful time of year and the time I start getting antsy.  The buzz, buzz, buzz, of plant growth and insect activity is quiet.  Below the soil the plants are still perking away slowly, getting ready for spring.  But I can’t SEE them.  By late December or January I’m rereading garden magazines and my seed catalogs are more thumbed over than a 14 year old boys secret Playboy stash. Thank goodness for snowdrops (Galanthus spp.).

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Interview on Lewistalks: Herbs and Sci Fi

A local new source just published an interview with me for Blooming Artichoke Herbary, as well as my husband, Tom Gondolfi, and his publishing company.  To learn about our joint efforts with herbs and the written science fiction word here is the article for your enjoyment.

Tom and Colleen Gondolfi: Passionate About Science Fiction and Herbs

 

Herbal Cough Syrups

Grindelia_integrifolia_wikiI’m sitting at my computer listening to the rain gurgle through the downspout outside the window.  Summer is a memory and judging by the brilliant tree colors and WET, our northwest fall is in full swing.  Along with that comes the seasonal run of drippy noses and persistent coughs of cold and flu season.  You are in luck.  Many of our lovely herbs work beautifully to ease the irritation of coughs and one of the ways you can prepare them is a tasty cough syrup.

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Get a Jump On Spring This Fall

For some gardeners the emotional side of the garden season runs something like this.

December/January:   Giddily pour over seed catalogs looking for the new and wonderful while visions of glorious    gardens dance through our heads.

March/April:  Enthusiastically prepp486ing beds for the green babies to come.

April/May:   Plant, water, and lovingly tend new or returning garden denizens.

July:   Haul hoses and sprinklers around, again. Driest month ever!  And why do weeds grow no matter how much rain?

September/October:   Longingly dream of packing away the trowel and trug and swearing that if the weeds want the garden so badly they can have it.

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Cats vs. Catnip

018At Blooming Artichoke we grow lots of different perennial herbs.  Some are easy plants to grow, some are more exact and difficult, but catnip (Nepeta cataria) has to be the most challenging of the lot because it calls out to all its destroyers within sniffing distance.

First of all, I love cats.  I’ve been a certified crazy cat lady my whole life.  I love plants.  And I have the plant geek certificates and stack of dirty garden gloves to prove it.  There are just times when those two loves do not work well together.  Catnip and furballs are a good example. 

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Gardening for Health

Hectic schedules, deadlines, ballgames, family, world events…the list goes on.  Stress is a very real part of our lives.  All that stress does have an impact on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Science continues to find more evidence that long term stress leads to a variety of illnesses from increased susceptibility to viral infection, increased risk for diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and digestive ailments to mental and emotional conditions.  So what to do about mitigating the effects of stress in our lives?  Incorporate garden exercise, surround ourselves with green, bring whole, healthy foods to the table from our gardens.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) moderate-intensity level activities for 2.5 hours per week are enough to reduce the risks for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death.  As defined by the CDC, moderate-intensity level exercise is anything that increases the heart and breathing rate enough that you can still talk but not sing, which in my case is a relief to the neighbors.  Gardening is included in this category of exercise.  Even better, another study found that gardening motivaIMG_0022tes people to spend more time in the dirt compared to other forms of exercise such as bicycling and walking.  So not only is it good exercise with demonstrated health benefits, but we apparently find it more pleasant than spin classes.

For reduction of emotional and mental signs of stress, gardening and being out in green spaces has also been studied.  In one study a 10% increase in nearby green space was found to turn the clock back five years on an individual’s health complaints.  Working with plants is found so beneficial that horticultural therapy is sometimes recommended to help those struggling with depression, anger, fatigue and anxiety.  A 2006 study that followed 2800 subjects over the age of 60 for a period of 16 years found that gardening could reduce the risk of dementia by 36%.  That’s a lot of peace of mind.

If your gardening takes the form of a vegetable plot, there is the added advantage of fresh, local, pesticide free (because we know you would not add chemicals to your garden…right?) food for your table.  If you are more inspired to create rock gardens or divide dahlias that is no problem.  Visit your local farmers market to reap the healthy rewards of other gardeners, or set up a neighborhood flower/rutabaga swap.

Gardens come in all shapes, sizes and intents.  There is no right or wrong garden.  It may not even be your garden you are working in.  Community gardens love to see volunteers coming.  The point is that connecting with a garden and diving into the assorted tasks needed to maintain a garden space is beneficial to you in so many ways, how can you not?  Grab your shovel and embrace your inner gardener.  Weed pulling is therapy.

References:

AARP. 5 Secret Health Benefits of Gardening. Kim Hayes, June 14, 2017. http://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2017/health-benefits-of-gardening-fd.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measuring Physical Activity Intensity.  Retreived 7.1.17.  https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/index.html.

Rodale’s Organic Life. 5 Surprising Ways Gardenikng Improves Your Health. https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/5-surprising-ways-gardening-improves-your-health.

Sherer, PM. The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space. Retreived 7.1.17. www.eastshorepark.org/benefits_of_parks%20tpl.pdf.

Soga M, Gaston KJ, Yamaura Y. Gardening is beneficial for health: a Meta-analysis. Preventative Medicine Report. 2017 Mar; 5:92-99.

Feed the Bees…Plant an Herb!

Monarda punctataAnyone watching the news and/or their garden is aware of the challenges facing our honey bee and bumblebee populations.  Be a bee friendly gardener by adding pollinator friendly plants into your garden to give the bees (and other pollinators) a reliable food source free of chemicals.

Nothing says “hiya Bee!” like an herb.  Herb gardens are abuzz with the sound and sight of happy bees enjoying pollen and nectar from flowering herbs.  This isn’t a one way street either, all that bee activity is making sure that your whole garden is being well pollinated and productive.

So, out of all the herbs to choose which should you plant?  That depends on garden conditions such as available sunlight, soil type, water availability, etc.  But ideally, your choices should provide successive blooms throughout the season with a mix of annual and perennial plants.  The following are some suggestions for bee favorites.

Plant Name                                      Bloom Time                           Garden Needs

Agastache foeniculum                        July-Sept                                   Average; full sun/partial shade

Allium tuberosum                              Late summer                             Average; full sun/partial shade

Angelica archangelica                         May                                            Biennial; shade/partial sun; moist

Borago officinalis                                 All summer                               Annual/biennial; sun…self seeder

Eupatorium purpureum                    late summer/early fall             Average; full sun

Foeniculum vulgare                            Mid to late summer                 Average; full sun

Galium odoratum                               Spring                                         Moist soil; full sun to full shade.

Hyssopus officinalis                            June to September                   Average; full sun

Matricaria chamomilla                       June to September                   Average; full sun to partial shade.

Lavendula spp.                                    June to August                          Average; full sun

Melissa officinalis                                June to August                          Average; full sun to partial shade

Mentha spp.                                        July to August                           Average; full sun to partial shade

Monarda fistulosa                              June to September                   Average; full sun

Nepeta cataria                                    June to September                   Average; full sun to partial shade

Origanum vulgare                             July                                             Average; full sun

Rosmarinus officinalis                       June to July                               Average; full sun

Salvia officinalis                                  June                                            Average; full sun

Symphytum officinalis                      May to June                               Average; full sun to partial shade

Tanacetum parthenium                    June to August                          Average; full sun

Thymus spp.                                      June to August                           Average; full sun

Don’t forget about the “weeds” around the place that bees love too, like dandelion, clover, and plantain. Dandelion flowers are one of the first blooms to appear each spring and are therefore a valuable food source for bees at a time when the larder is definitely lean.

It should go without saying that having prepared this feast for the pollinators it is NOT okay to then garnished it with chemicals.

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Springs Early Arrivals

009 I love the rainy, mossy and sun-challenged Pacific Northwest.  There is even a part of me that revels in our wet, bleak winters.  But by March I’m pretty much over all that and am ready to see evidence of renewing life.  Spring is a time of rebirth, a time to rejoice in the visual signs of new emerging plants, the smells of warming earth, and taste of tender new and nutritious greens.

That new life is coming.  March 20th may be the official start of spring this year, but already plants are cautiously sticking their noses out.  Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Monarda (Monarda spp.), Violet (Viola odorata), Lovage (Levisticum officinalis), Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina), and Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) are all emerging right now.  Take a walk through the parks, woods, or other wild places around you and may also see the tender new shoots of nettles (Urtica dioica), chicory (Cichorium intybus), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and chickweed (Stellaria media).

Now that you have cooed at the sights of emerging green, tickle another sense by adding some of this new foliage to your diet.  As soon as they are large enough, gather young dandelion, chickweed and purslane greens for a refreshing and highly nutritious salad.  Dandelion has almost twice as much vitamin A as spinach (14000 IU).  The bright notes of the greens, bitterness, and impressive nutrients make a great spring tonic in salad form.  Spring nettles are another traditional spring tonic and can be steamed or stirred into soups and stews for a boost of minerals at a time when our bodies need that rejuvenation.  Nettles are particularly rich in protein, iron, calcium and magnesium.  Use care collecting them to avoid being stung and be sure to cook them to deactivate the stingers on the plant.  Alternatively, infuse fresh dandelion leaves or decoct the roots for a warm tea to cuddle as you continue to scan your gardens for other signs of new life.

Last thoughts… remember dandelions are one of the first flowers to emerge in the spring and as such are an important food source for bees.  Also, only gather from areas you know have not been sprayed or contaminated.

References:

Bissas, Aspasia. (February/March 2004). Early Spring Herbs. Mother Earth Living. http://www.motherearthliving.com/Gardening/Early-Spring-Herbs?pageid=2#PageContent2

Cech, Richo. (2000). Making Plant Medicine. A Horizon Herbs Publication:Williams, OR.

Hoffmann, David. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press:Rochester VT.

Meares, Portia. (April/May 1993). Spring Tonics. http://www.motherearthliving.com/Health-and-Wellness/Spring-Tonics.

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