Carlee’s Post: Keeping Summer Alive, Even in the Dead of Winter

    I have never really been a winter person. I didn’t even know that there were people who LOVED winter until very recently, and I’m still trying to understand the idea. Until I was eighteen, the winters of my life involved getting sick, staying inside, running to stand over the heating vents of the floor whenever they clicked on, and school, all things I was not a big fan of. Despite all the winter adventures I had like skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing, nothing completely changed my mind. The summer on the other hand, is a great friend of mine. It’s full of good food, long sunny days, short cool nights, happy people on vacation, and herbs, bountiful, beautiful herbs. So it probably comes as no surprise that as soon as I was able, instead of staying in beautiful New England, I sought out warmer climates in places like Hawaii, California, and Texas. When I came home after three years of my ideal climate, I mentally geared up for the winter. It became my new mantra that I’d keep the summer alive in my body by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables all winter long. Today’s post was inspired by that idea. I want to share with you some methods you can use to enjoy the tastes of summer while the sun is out, and as the snow falls. These preparations include herbal honey, vinegar, and cordial. Recently I’ve seen fennel, dill, basil, and oregano at farmers markets, so I’ll be discussing the benefits of these great plants, all of which are suited to the recipes that follow. I’ve included suggestions of other herbs to use that all grow in our area, feel free to get creative, using things from your own garden too!

     You are probably very familiar with these four herbs in your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, where they truly shine. But did you know what else they’re capable of when used medicinally? Basil, which also goes by the names, St. Josephwort, and sweet basil, is a very fragrant plant with white to red flowers. When used medicinally, its soothing to the digestive system, and can stimulate an appetite. Basil has also been used to assist with headaches, whopping cough, and a wide variety of stomach complaints. Basil grows mostly in cultivated gardens. Fennel is a plant whose medicinal properties live in its root and seed. Its umbrella shaped flowering tops hold up soft yellow flowers that bloom from July to October. Dill is a plant whose flowers grow very similarly to fennel. It shares many properties with basil. It is antispasmodic, and soothes the digestive system. It is also a calmative, meaning it’s nourishing to the nervous system. It’s also commonly used as a tea, to calm the stomach. It has also been used to aid with bad breath, insomnia, and as an appetite stimulant. Oregano, like basil and dill is antispasmodic, calmative, and is used to aid with stomach discomfort. It has also been used for coughs, headache, colic, relief in abdominal cramps, the regulation of the menstrual cycle, toothache, and insomnia. An infusion made from oregano flowers is helpful to prevent seasickness. The oil of the Majorana horntensis variety of oregano can be used externally for varicose veins, gout, rheumatism, and stiff joints. Now that you know some of the medicinal properties of these great plants, I hope it will inspire you to seek them out at your local farmers markets, and cycle them into your diet through these recipes, or others you enjoy!

Herbal Honey

1.Chop up your fresh or dry herb. If the herb is very juicy, you may want to wilt the herb in a hot location (out of direct sun) for a day.
2. Per 1/2 cup of chopped herb (volume), add 2 cups of honey (volume). Bring to a gentle boil, shut off, and let cool.
3. Repeat at least once and up to 3 times each day for 3 days.
4. After the last heating, pour the warm mixture through a strainer and into jars.

Notes: When making a herbal preparation of any kind its important to be aware of the water content of the plant you are working with. This is because water in almost all cases encourages mold growth, and fermentation. Though this is unlikely to happen, its’ important to watch for signs like an unpleasant smell or visible mold. In the case of these things being present it’s best to throw away your preparation so you don’t get sick. When making an herbal honey, using dried herbs decreases this chance, though fresh herbs are still a completely viable choice, because the heating and cooling of the honey will extract some of the fresh herbs moisture content. A third method to decrease moisture content of the plant is to wilt the plants outside. This entails collecting your herbs and leaving them in a shaded place on a hot day, or with some type of covering like a box or basket. The heat of the sun will extract some of the water found in the plants, decreasing the chance that it will cause fermentation or spoilage in your honey.

Suggested Herbs: Lemon Balm, Anise Hyssop, Mints, Bee Balm, Thyme, Ginger

Herbal Cordial

1.Make a simple syrup by simmering 2 cups of sugar with 1 cup of water until clear.
2.Loosely fill a jar with fresh herbs or fruit.
3.Cover with the simple syrup and 1 1/2 cups or more of good quality, high proof vodka or other desired neutral alcohol.
4.Cover, shake, and let sit for at least one month or until desired flavor is reached.
5.Strain and store in the cupboard for special events and a delicious dessert!

Notes: Shelf life is 1-2 years. Enjoy over ice cream, fruits or add to baking mixes. When making an herbal cordial use only the aerial (above ground) parts of the plant.

Suggested Herbs; Anise, Fennel, Lemon Balm, Lemon grass, Mints, Thyme, Lemon Verbena, and all fruits, Vanilla

Herbal Vinegar

1. Chop up your fresh herbs. Loosely pack a jar and cover them with vinegar.
2. Let it sit for at least one month, strain, and use as desired.

Notes; Any culinary herb you enjoy the taste of will make an herbal vinegar with a hint of that flavor. Adding a whole sprig of the herb to the finished product is a beautiful addition and conversation starter. White distilled and Rice vinegars are a great choice to showcase the subtleties of your chosen herbs while apple cider vinegar is great for preparations with a more medicinal focus, particularly suited to tackle colds. Berries of all kinds are perfect for an herbal vinegar, and herbs for culinary use like basil, dill, oregano, and fennel will also create a delicious vinegar, that you can toss in salads, on pizza or roasted vegetables. Herbal Vinegar will last 6-8 months. When making an herbal vinegar use only the aerial (above ground) parts of the plant.

Suggested Herbs: Thyme, Chive Blossoms, Tarragon, Basil, Dill, Oregano, Fennel, Blueberries, Raspberries

All Recipes, as well as some notes and suggested herbs come from Body into Balance An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care, by Maria Noel Groves. Maria, is a New Hampshire based herbalist, registered with the American Herbalist Guild, feel free to check out her website wintergreenbotanicals.com for more information.

The Herb Book, John Lust

Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America, Steven Foster, and James A. Duke

https://www.almanac.com/blog/natural-health-home-tips/making-herbal-vinegars

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