Thursday, October 19, 2017


For all of us, it's hard to look at things from the other side.
The other day a guy was working here on the house, and I wound up telling a story I'd forgotten all about.  Seems like a good time to share it here, too.

Remember this?  Some people saw blue/black, some saw white/tan.  Same dress.

The last few years of high school, after the bus picked up a bunch of us near my house, it traveled a couple of miles before the final stop for one lone girl.  By the time we got there, everyone had stretched out across their seats, taking up the whole thing, and when she boarded, they wouldn't make eye contact, forcing her to ask them to let her sit.

After watching this a few times, I started picking up my stuff before we got to her house, and making her welcome to sit with me.  I would have hated to start every day facing a busload of people who made me ask for a place to sit and felt uncomfortable for her.  We sat together for at least a year.

Probably 10 years later, I ran into her at a party where she had been... shall we say... a bit longer than she should have been.  When she saw me, she loudly and proudly proclaimed to the whole party that nobody would sit with me on the bus, but she felt sorry for me, so she'd sit with me.

You know what they say... "Don't do things for people for their gratitude."  GOT IT!

So... yes, my feelings were hurt, but the real point of this story is that neither one of us could imagine what the other one was thinking OR experiencing.  I still believe that if she'd given it a moment of thought, she'd have figured it out, but as is human nature, she felt that she had done a good deed, as did I.

... and that's how it works.  We will each always see our own side of things more clearly.  None of us like to give ground and admit that the other person has a point (even if we don't agree with it). 

Just something to think about. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

November/December '17 Essential Herbal, Table of Contents (Issue #96)

Although this issue fell together perfectly, and is (as usual) filled with really wonderful things, it was the most challenging we've had in well over 10 years.  2 computers acted up, one lay-out artist skated across her kitchen floor on her elbow and ankle, a couple issues with the print and mail, and then fires in CA messed with the IT guy's abilities to update the site.  BUT IT IS HERE!  Whew!  Get ready for some warm and cozy holiday treats.

Table of Contents:

Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams   
     It's been one heck of a growing season.

Bee’s Wax Solstice Ornaments
, Marci Tsohonis   
     Mmmm... beautiful with or without scent, these ornaments will brighten your home.

Cardamom, Miranda Hoodenpyl   
     Such a delicious, warm, and fragrant spice.  We love it!  Try the gingersnaps, syrup, and chai recipes included.
Bubble Bars, TEH staff   
     Something fun to make with the kids.

Gardening Wrap Up, Kathy Musser
     Give some thought to what went right, what went wrong, and what you'd like to change.

Herbal Holiday Stress Soothers, Catherine Love
     The use of herbs and gentle aromatherapy can make all the difference.  Instructions for bath salts and a tea blend provided.

Steak of the Wine Maker, Rita Richardson
     Rita's dishes always make my mouth water, and this is no exception.
Sugarplums, Karen Hegre
     That imaginary confection of our childhood is here for the making!

Celebrating Cacao. Kristine Brown
     All the reasons we should add cacao to our lives, AND some recipes, including cacao toothpaste!
Herbal Quiz 101, Molly Sams
     Take a moment out of your busy season to think about herbs.
Hosting a High Tea, American Style, Jackie Johnson
     Great ideas for what to serve, how to serve it and what goes together.
Molly (of the West), Molly Sams   
     Getting settled and finding a whole different world of plants.

Aloe Comfrey Soap, Marci Tsohonis
     This soother is great for wind burns and chapped skin of winter.
Winter Herb Activities, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh   
     Fun things to make for yourself or for others!  Tub teas, potpourri, a fire spell, and brownies are all listed.

Fudge TEH staff, Easy and quick, just the kind of thing memories are made with.
List Article, What Herb/Plant says “Winter Holidays” to You?   
     Many different plants are mentioned along with several ideas for their use.

Say Ahhhh... Herbal Throat Spray, Cathy Calfchild
     Soothing, effective remedy.
 Louisiana Lagniappe, Shrimp Stuffed Portobella Mushrooms, Sarah Liberta   
     Perfect for holiday gatherings.  Fancy, but not too time-consuming.

Maryanne's Turkey and Stuffing

There you have it.  A great issue, right?  Get yours now at
This issue will most likely sell out.  Gift subscriptions are a very thoughtful present that arrives 6 times  year.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Colors of the Seasonal Foods

In recent years, I've become very aware of how the food in my grocery basket changes as the months go by.  In zones 6 or below, the seasonal effect is most pronounced.

In the deep winter, we have foods that keep well, like root vegetables that are mostly the colors of white, orange, and brown.  We also have cabbage, cauliflower, and some broccoli.  They can last in our zone until a hard freeze, and in a root cellar into the late winter months.  Our mom was infamous for her "white meals" in which she would serve pan-fried white fish, boiled white potatoes, and cauliflower.  We teased her mercilessly, and I'm not sure she ever saw an issue.These foods are dense with nutrients.  Most roots are chock full of energy producing carbs to get us through the winter.
Winter foods don't often inspire me to grab the camera, so this apple crisp will have to do.

In spring and early summer, the vivid greens of spring peas, leaf lettuces, asparagus, and spring onions, settle in next to the pale little new potatoes, gleaming radishes, and bright red strawberries.

They combine to give us a spritely tonic to wake up our bodily systems.

Summer arrives, and we've got a riot of color.
All sorts of fruits - mostly in reds and purples, deep leafy greens, carrots in many hues, yellow and purple onions, beans from purple to deep green, and the green and yellow summer squash. And the tomatoes!

Oh those salad days... All the colors of the rainbow, and we come to take them for granted. 

Now we are entering fall.

I look at my table after unloading the groceries.  There are sweet potatoes, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, persimmons, carrots, tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, and winter squash.  Apples are scrumptious right now, and various grapes are available.  Oranges are starting to arrive from the south.  Grains, nuts, and beans are dried and ready for the pantry. Most everything looks like fall!  The colors are deep, jewel tones that signal the deep nutrition they contain.
These orange/yellow/red foods offer us flavinoids, lycopene, potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, copper, and tons of fiber.  They are particularly good for eye health (here come the dark months) and in supporting the immune system.  They help maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. 
All in all, a ton of health benefits to guide us into the sluggish, dark, and starch heavy months of winter.

We look forward to the foods of each season.  Right about when we no longer enjoy them quite so much, along comes another season full of deliciousness, and we welcome the delicacies of that time.

Monday, October 02, 2017

2017 TEH Fall Harvest Swap

Every few years I temporarily lose my mind and decide to host a swap on the magazine's Yahoo! list.
 It usually takes a few years to forget how complicated it can be (between the magazine and helping my sister with soap...), but this time it was pretty smooth going.  In spite of the fact that the USPS had a pretty substantial price hike after people had already submitted their return postage, and the loss of a few swappers to natural disasters, we still somehow managed to keep to the original number of 20.  Everyone had their things in early!
It was interesting to me that so many people had never participated in a swap before.  Less than 10 years ago, swaps were a pretty common occurrence.  Back then, people were hanging out on Yahoo! groups and forums based on their specific interests and on the one forum I most often visited, there were multiple swaps going on at all times.  This one was met with great enthusiasm by the participants.
There was such an interesting, wonderful mixture of products, and massive creativity.  Who knows?  It may not take me so long to get my nerve up to do another :-).
There were things like tea blends, culinary blends, aromatherapy blends, salves, tinctures, soaps, eye pillows, lip balms, and even a candle!  We got a teapot pendant and an good luck incense kit.  Honey, face food, lotion and tub tea were in the box too.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some things, but you get the idea.  It was fabulous!  Thanks to all the participants!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Vive la Stinking Rose

Vive la Stinking Rose
Marci Tsohonis
from the Sept/Oct '16 issue of The Essential Herbal
Garlic (Allium sativum) has a long history of controversy. 
 You’ll find yourself in good company whether you love it or hate it.  It was shunned in proper medieval society, along with aromatic relatives, including chives, onions, leeks and shallots.  Other periods and cultures embraced it as both food and medicine, reaching back to the Egyptian Dynasties.  
I have been surprised to encounter a few holdouts in my own circle of acquaintances that still choose to buy garlic powdered, granulated or already peeled (possibly floating in a jar of inferior oil) from the grocery store.  Multitudes of online recipe or cooking apps, and fresh garlic at every farmer’s market today have probably narrowed that gap a bit.  Inquiry usually reveals that their Mom just used powdered garlic, or no garlic, or they didn’t know how much to use, or how to peel it, or they hoped to save time.   I hope to clarify some of those issues in this article.  
We plant over two hundred cloves of garlic every October.  I confess I am something of a foodie, and I never want to be without it.  It sounds like a lot, maybe more than you would want.  But when you consider that much garlic only makes about 24 braids, it puts it in perspective.  I use fresh garlic to enhance soups, stews, grains, vegetables, meats and some bread recipes in addition to making herbal remedies like Fire Cider and Garlic Honey for cold care. We gift garlic braids to friends and neighbors, and keep at least a dozen out of every harvest for ourselves for use in cooking and seed garlic. 
Fresh garlic adds an earthy complexity of flavor that truly has no substitute in good cooking. 
Powdered and granulated garlic are about 5x as strongly flavored as the fresh, but they are bitter by comparison, and the flavor is not at all the same as fresh garlic.  I stock them for use in an emergency.  In my opinion, their highest and best use in cooking is in Chex Party Mix.  Just sayin’.

Peeling garlic:
Some garlic peels easier than others, but most of it is easily removed once the garlic has cured.  There are two inexpensive, indispensible tools I have found that make peeling garlic quick and painless.      The green tube is an official garlic peeler that I wish I’d invented! 

 It sells for under $7 and is the best tool, ever.  You just place a clove in the tube and roll it a couple times on the counter, and the skin will pop off any garlic.  The blue rubber circle is actually a freebie, flat rubber jar opener that is placed on the lid of a jar to give you extra twist leverage.  I tried it on garlic one time when I couldn’t locate the green tube, and it was a great hack.   Try one or the other if peeling lots of cloves of garlic at once. 
Finding the seed cloves:
Are you considering planting some garlic this fall?  It is easy to find excellent garlic in areas with good garden or kitchen shops.  In Portland and Seattle, stores offer it in bins separated by variety, priced by the pound, with tongs and paper bags to place the cloves in for weighing.   Some farmer’s markets boast garlic vendors, too.   I always peel a clove if I’m buying local garlic, and bite it in half.  It should be pure creamy white, with no green spot in the center, and crisply hard and juicy.  If the garlic is still green, it was harvested too early.  Good vendors won’t mind if you check for that.   
The garlic in your local super-market, though fine for eating, may have been grown in another country.  It may not be suitable for your climate or growing zone, and your first garlic growing adventure could be disappointing.   Ask around, talk to local gardeners.  If you can’t find a local, knowledgeable supplier of garlic, you will find many online sources that offer organic, non-GMO seed garlic.  Seed catalogs are another source.  All will assist you to purchase quality garlic for your specific climate or growing zone.
Buy enough garlic so you can set-aside seed cloves for the next years crop from the current years harvest.   Most heads of garlic have 7-8 cloves in them.   Designate whole braids as seed garlic so you don’t forget to save some for seed!  We did that once.  
 My favorite garlic is the hard-necked, red-skinned Spanish Roja.  It has been wildly popular in the Pacific Northwest since it first showed up in Portland, OR around 1901, and has been on the increase, gardener to gardener, ever since.   It is not yet available in most grocery stores, even in Portland.  Roja is spicy, somewhat sweet and easier to peel than some varieties.   It grows well in the NW because of the long cool season and cooler nights.  It would probably grow poorly in the southern climates.  Climate definitely matters.  With just a little research you will find your own garlic superstar and live happily ever after.  

Soil Requirements:
If you are familiar with good gardening practices, you are likely aware that crop rotation is just about the most important organic method to reduce disease and pest issues and insure a healthy supply of nutrients.   In a small garden it can be tough to find enough room to plant in a different area of fresh soil every year.  Some people get around that issue by just making sure no specific plant is grown for more than one year in the same spot.  So, if you just have a small garden, take heart.  Do what you can, and your garlic will reward you.  It is very hardy.
The garlic in your local super-market, though fine for eating, may have been grown in another country.  It may not be suitable for your climate or growing zone, and your first garlic growing adventure could be disappointing.   Ask around, talk to local gardeners.  If you can’t find a local, knowledgeable supplier of garlic, you will find many online sources that offer organic, non-GMO seed garlic.  Seed catalogs are another source.  All will assist you to purchase quality garlic for your specific climate or growing zone.  
 Planting:  (mid-to-late October, in our area)
Break open the heads of garlic that you want to plant.  Plant each clove about 2 inches deep, in dry soil, with the skin still attached and the pointy side up. There is no need to soak them or peel them first, despite info to the contrary online.   Gently cover cloves with soil and tamp down the soil, but do not pack it down too hard.   Water thoroughly.  Now, let the cold winds blow and ignore it till spring!
In the spring, garlic is always the first green growing thing we see.  We get heavy snow in our area, but once the snow melts it is obvious that 3-inch tall, slimy, pale green garlic stems were growing underneath the blanket of snow.   If you discover that, do not worry about the garlic.  The garlic stems will be a healthy green color within a couple of weeks.
How to know your garlic is ready to harvest:
Hard necked garlic grows curly garlic Scapes, alerting you that it is almost time to harvest and giving you a flavor teaser. 
Scapes can be diced and used exactly like garlic in recipes.  Soft necked garlic varieties do not grow scapes.  A major clue that garlic is ready to harvest is when the lower leaves above ground are turning brown.  The surest way to know it is ready is to simply harvest a garlic plant, and cut open a clove.   Grasp firmly with your hand at the base of the plant, and kind of twist, jiggle and pull.  They usually break loose fairly easily.  Peel a clove and cut it in half.  If there is any green visible in the center of the clove, it is still “green”, and needs another week (or two) in the ground.
Braiding it:
The most beautiful garlic braids are made from soft-necked garlic varieties.   All garlic can be braided, and, I think, should be, even if they aren’t real pretty.  Braids of 10-12 heads of garlic will hang in a barn or basement nicely, allowing a slow, cool cure with good air circulation.  If you pre-soak just the stems of the garlic for an hour, right after pulling them out of the ground, (and braid them right away) it will make braiding them much more manageable.  So, split your harvest into segments spaced over a few days, based on what you can manage, time-wise.   We sometimes hose off our garlic heads because our climate is so dry we don’t have mold issues.  A safer, more universal method is to simply use a soft bristled toothbrush to brush off soil that clings to the garlic heads and whiskers.  Don’t trim off the garlic whiskers till it is cured.  

Start with a 3-strand braid, and add a 4th (French braid style), holding and adding two stems as if they were one, then another, until all heads have been added.  When you are done adding garlic heads, wrap/loop wire or twine over the skinny part of the braid, every inch, all the way to the tip with a light gauge reinforcing wire or twine.  Also wrap horizontally between each head, ascending.  If you are feeling particularly crafty, create a loop with the top, skinny part of the braid, and secure it at the back of the braid on the opposite side.  The arched part of the braid then becomes the hanging loop.  Your braid will stay pretty as it dries and will make a wonderful gift.  
We planted soft-necked Inchelium garlic last fall, in addition to Roja, as I wanted to be able to have a stunning garlic braid photo for this article.   Unfortunately, even soaking the Inchelium garlic stems didn’t soften them.  They were as stiff as tree trunks!  On the plus side, the Inchelium garlic is hot, spicy and tasty.  None of our braids look great this year, but they work.  There are many sites online that will take you through every detail of braiding garlic when you are ready to harvest next summer.
I want to share a couple tasty recipes you can use your fresh garlic in, so you’ll get hooked on growing it. 
Roasted garlic:  This will bring anyone to their knees, I promise.  Spread on warm French bread or add to meats, veggies, pizza or gravies.  The flavor is nutty goodness that is out of this world!
Cut a piece of heavy foil large enough to fold in half and line a small pan.  Preheat oven to 350/375 degrees.  Cut just the tips (1/4 inch) off the pointy end of a head of garlic.  Do not separate the cloves.  Place in the middle of the lower piece of foil.  Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the garlic heads.   Seal with foil ad place in the pan.  Heat about 35-40 minutes.  Garlic should be a golden color, and soft.  Remove from oven and squeeze the heads at the bottom to pop out the delicious garlic cloves! 
Dipping oil for warm French bread:  (instead of garlic butter)
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
¼-1/3 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
¼-1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of Balsamic vinegar (optional)
On low heat, simmer chopped garlic with salt in olive oil for about 10 minutes.  Stir in vinegar, if using.  Serve in small bowls at table to dip French bread in.
Happy autumn!  Marci

Monday, August 28, 2017

Salt Blends from Your Garden (or Produce Section)

There are so many great ways to preserve culinary herbs for later use, and salt blends is one of them.  This is just one - but you can try all kinds of things!
We make them in very small batches.  For us, 1/2 cup is more than enough until the next season rolls around, but you might want to make them for gifts.

Give them a try.  You'll be glad you did.

We chose rosemary, lemon zest, and pink Himalayan salt for this batch.
This ran in the magazine a few issues back.

We don't grind it until it is uniform, but you can.
We really enjoy tiny bits of the ingredients, popping up here and there.  The lemon and rosemary really shine on poultry or fish, and all kinds of pastas and veggies.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Another Day...

We have a pretty good time around here.  I think that has a lot to do with all of the ways that we get to express our creativity.
This summer has been pretty wild, with a lot of planned and unplanned twists and turns.  We also changed the deadline schedule for the magazine, and that still has me floundering a little bit.  The last issue just got out there, and now we are looking at a deadline in a week.  I was used to a month to catch my breath (and help catch up with the soap!) but that vanished.  We'll get used to it, but it's still a bit odd.
Blocks of Blackberry Sage, Merlot, Patchouli, Apricot Freesia, Green Tea, and Apple Snap.
This week, we've been putting in lots of time on orders with my sister's soap company.  Her business only handles wholesale orders.  Essential Herbal carries her products as retail. 
All summer long, every time we think the shelves look full and "healthy," the phone rings a couple of times and they look scary again.  We've been trying to make 6 batches 45 bars each) every day for a while. 
I'm home for lunch right now, so I thought I'd share a few pics.
One of the things I love to do is make molded soaps with the leftover soap batter.  As the holidays approach, these "oddball" soaps are fun to slip into order boxes up at the EH shipping area.  
The rectangles are dragons, and we've got a great idea for the tea festival!
 Daylight is just over the horizon.  Or a pile of orders will come in.  One or the other :-)
We needed a few hundred sniffing jars for the current orders.
These smell up the whole joint.
  And a bunch of bathing herbs.
This is a pleasant chore.  We can sit and talk while we make them.
Everything is pretty orderly.
Starting to get a grip.  Many tables make for an easier time.
Just a bunch of lotion bars to go...
And still there's time for the plants.
These greet me at the front door.  I love them.
Guess I'll be heading down to finish up - and help get tonight's 6 batches laid out.  First though, I'll send out renewal notices. 
The weather is so gorgeous.  I want to squeeze in the time to weed the saffron patch!  It won't be too long before those bright purple crocuses start popping up.


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