For most gardeners, spring planning is just about done. Seeds have been purchased and started. Snow comes, soon melts, spring’s official beginning is around the corner, and birds have begun their mating songs.
Years ago I attended an herb class at a local herb farm. The owner prepared a beautiful glass urn of sun tea. The urn was filled with a variety of flowers, violets, johnny jump-ups, roses, lavender, herb blossoms, and more. This tea was refreshing. I was impressed and have not forgotten this experience.
Recently, I came across a new book from Rosalind Creasy, The Edible Flower Garden. Her cover and photography hooked my curiosity as the subject of edible flowers is limited. Rosalind is a well-known author and respected organic gardener. It is a stunning work with gorgeous photography that highlights the beauty of flowers and shows off culinary delights using flowers in a variety of ways. She has researched claims of edibles and addresses some of which are myths, such as stock. History shows it may have been eaten in times of famine but no other time. Therefore, stock is not on her list.
Edible Flowers Idea
I use blossoms in quiches. Small amounts of wild strawberry flowers when in bloom, rose petals, lavender. So many wild and common flowers are edible like the violet leaves pictured above. In my wild food classes, we used echinacea and dandelion blossoms, squash blossoms, and nasturtiums, for example. It all created a lovely palette for the eye in recipes as well as provided a variety of tastes. They inspire our creative juices, fill our senses with texture, color, and form. They are the stuff of poetry and stories. Yet in my travels, I have found folks a bit leery of using flowers in food.
4 Tips To Remember About Edible Flowers
- Flowers should never be used as food from stores. Store-bought flowers often come into our country from overseas and are chemically treated.
- Organic gardens, whether traditional landscapes or vegetable-based, do not have that concern. If you do not have a garden but a neighbor does, please ask questions. Make sure they are organic.
- If you have planters and need to give your plants extra food to maintain growth, please read labels carefully.
- Always check with a reliable source before picking or tasting anything you are not familiar with. For example, most mushrooms are poisonous. Pokeberry flowers and berries are not edible. Daffodils are not edible.
Title: The Edible Flower Garden
Author: Rosalind Creasy
What I like: Rosalind gives the reader an encyclopedia of flowers that are edible. Pictures are crisp and help to easily identify a flower accompanied by how to grow and how to prepare sections. She then provides us with photographs and recipes that are simply elegant. She rounds out her book with appendixes on planting and maintenance, pest and disease control. She has suggestions for nontoxic management if pests show up. Lastly, she has a well-organized section on seed sources.
I recently spoke to a library about the benefits of herb teas. The dried flowers contained in the herb blends were a hit. Folks who love to garden often have no idea that many common plants are edible. And that some of these flowers and plants contribute nourishment. Nourishment, provided from a variety of plant constituents, such as vitamins A, B, C, and calcium, all support our biology.
For those of you who are curious about edible flowers I highly recommend this book.
What is Fennel Seed Tea
Looking for a soothing after dinner tea. Fennel seed tea has a long history of helping digest rich foods. Chewing a few seeds or making a tea from them offers an aromatic tea that helps relieve bloating and/or gas after meals.
How to Make Fennel Seed Tea
Fennel Seed Tea Recipe:
- Steep a teaspoon of fennel seeds in hot water for several minutes. It helps to crush them a bit too.
- Strain and enjoy a pleasant tasting, hint of anise or licorice like flavor tea.
- You can add other herbs like spearmint and natural sweetener like honey or stevia according to your preference.
The purple coneflower, a true garden beauty, tall and colorful, attracting an array of butterflies and other wildlife, has been a part of our native culture for centuries. I feel this pretty plant helped open the doors of natural medicine into mainstream awareness. It emerged as a strong player through the AIDS crises.
Name: Echinacea sps, purple coneflower
Where found: native to North America, found in the prairies west of Ohio. It’s a member of the Aster family. If you have any allergies to ragweed, marigolds, or daisies try in very small amounts or avoid. It grows from 2-3′ in height, great food for butterflies, moths. Echinacea purpura, Angustifolia, and purpura are the most common varieties used in herbal tinctures, teas, etc.
Parts used: When I first stepped in the study of herbalism many years ago, we talked about echinacea root. When you chew a piece of the root, it leaves a distinct almost numbing taste and quality which is a good way to ID plant. At that time, the root was used to make several types of herbal preparations including teas and tinctures. Later on, studies were done on the stems, leaves, flowers and they too contain the same properties as the root. Today, echinacea farms grow and harvest the entire plant for the herbal supplement industry.
Actions: Sioux, Cherokee, even Russia have tested and used this plant. In recent years this plant received much press from studies that show it does have some impact on our immune system functions, specifically raising white cells.
- From the NCCIH.gov:Taking echinacea after you catch a cold has not been shown to shorten the time that you’ll be sick.
- Taking echinacea while you’re well may slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold. However, the evidence on this point isn’t completely certain. Currently, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is funding research to identify the active constituents in echinacea and to study the effects on the human immune system of substances in bacteria that live within echinacea plants.
- WebMD states: ” Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, you’re body’s defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white cells, which fight infections. A review of more than a dozen studies, published in 2014, found the herbal remedy had a very slight benefit in preventing colds.
Uses: Teas, decoctions, tinctures. In older herbals, it was used to help rid the body of toxins. Dr, Mercola claims 10 benefits of echinacea, one of which may help shorten the duration of a cold. Studies are underway since the sales of herbal medicines have soared and cannot be ignored over OTC’s.
What’s the difference?
Each herb has its own unique collections of constituents that drive its action on a cellular level.
It seems echinacea exerts its influence on raising white cells which helps fight infection.
Elderberry exerts its influence in a variety of ways. …Dr. Maxwell Crispo, N.D. says: ” the antiviral activity of elderberry on influenza was strongest when used in pre-treatment, during infection and post-infection, rather than when used solely during infection. The study confirmed that elderberry exerts its antiviral activity on influenza through a number of mechanisms of action, including suppressing the entry of the virus into cells, modulating the post-infectious phase, and preventing viral transmission to other cells. Elderberry also upregulates IL-6, IL-8, and TNF, suggesting an indirect effect on viral immune response in the body.”
Also: “black elderberry extract has previously been shown to inhibit human influenza A (H1N1) infection in vitro by binding to H1N1 virions, thereby blocking the ability of the viruses to infect host cells.2 The same study showed elderberry to be effective against 10 strains of influenza virus and compared its effectiveness favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and amantadine.”
What to take? Recommendations are to use elderberry as a preventive, at the onset, and through the duration of a cold or flu. Echinacea may be more useful at the onset and for the duration, maybe even a week or 2 afterward. Both herbs come in a variety of ways. Teas provide nourishment, capsules, tinctures are more medicinal. Lozenges soothe.
- Read labels.
- Check botanical names.
- Buy organically grown.
- Use it wisely. If you need to see a physician always disclose which herbal preparations you include in your daily routine.
- There are preparations designed especially for children. I recommend you use those for these younger ages and not the ones designed for adults.
- Herbal medicine is slowly catching up in terms of research and well-conducted studies. It takes time. Remember both plants were effectively used long before double-blind studies became the sought after norm. Both plants have several uses but today they are gaining attention because of COVID-19. Can they help prevent this strain of flu? Too early to tell. But, like many others, I keep both plants in my home medicine chest. I worked in the health food industry for many years. Folks often related their success in terms of having a positive health response. Some didn’t. These are testimonials. But either way, both plants contribute a profound understanding of herbal medicine. My native elders would say: “whatever ails you, nature has the answer.” I hope you will take a walk today and look at the plants available with fresh eyes.
All comments are welcome. Enjoy your day. Judith
COVID-19 surprised us, caught us off guard. Many wonder how best to prevent or support our immune systems through this crisis we are in. Not just for COVID but we still get colds and influenzas too. What helps?
Herbal teas nourish and provide many health benefits. Warm liquids are recommended to keep our mucous membranes healthy and resistant. I keep many dried plants as part of my home medicine chest, But, with any herb, it’s wise to know how to properly ID them in the wild, and know how to use them; what form is best.
One of my most popular blog posts talked about the value of elderberry. Family and friends frequently ask me about this woody shrub. With the COVID-19 flu virus causing unprecedented changes to our lives, I thought it worthwhile to look at the differences between elderberry and echinacea both used to support our immune systems during cold and flu season. I added echinacea here because folks wonder about that herb’s health benefits. Today, we’ll review elderberry. In Part 2, we’ll look at echinacea and then compare the two.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as European Elder. Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood, hence the common name, pipe tree. The hollow reed was fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.
Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth. Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences. This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June. Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts. Elder also has a similar looking plant called Pokeweed which I wrote about a while ago to help folks tell the difference between Elderberry and Pokeweed.
Parts Used: bark, leaves, flowers, and berries. Do not eat the bark, leaves raw. The dried flowers dried or fresh or dried berries are often taken in tea form.
Actions: The flowers and berries are ideal for colds and flu, even sinusitis or any inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.
“What our study has shown us is that the common elderberry has a potent direct antiviral effect against the flu virus,” said Dr. Golnoosh Torabian. It inhibits the early stages of infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cells.” Does it work against COVID-19? That’s still in debate. But since our immune system can be attacked by these types of viruses, research is on.
James Duke, Ph.D., who wrote, Herb-a-Day studied the studies conducted on herbs. He recommended the elderberry for the flu. and his research states that this plant was used by many Native American tribes.
Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice. Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.
Medical News Today states: One cup of elderberries contains 106 calories and 26.68 grams (g) of carbohydrate. A cup also contains the following vitamins and minerals:
Elderberries are also an excellent source of fiber, containing 10.2 g of dietary fiber per cup.
How used: Edler flowers can be brewed and taken as a tea. Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. In fact, there is some research that indicates it’s beneficial to take when flying. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks, I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. The berries have a long “food as medicine” history and can be found recipes including wine, jams, vinegar, and more.
Nature has so many remedies for us. Doug Tallamy, a podcast guest on my show: Holistic Nature of Us, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.
Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.
Have you made elderberry vinegar or jam? Next week we’ll talk about echinacea and then compare the actions and uses of both plants. We enjoy hearing from you. Any comments or suggestions are always appreciated.
If you read my last article, hopefully, you are raring to go and buy some sustainable cookware. Great! One problem though – good sustainable cookware isn’t cheap. For example, most ceramic pots and pans actually have a coating. Xtrema is a rare cookware manufacturer that doesn’t coat its ceramic pans. Perfect! Except for this quality, sustainability and non-toxicity cost money. Of course buying durable, long-lasting cookware will save you money in the long run. Sometimes buying cheap is a false saving that doesn’t really help in the short term.
How can you help the planet and save money?
1. Consider Second hand
For some cookware, especially cast iron, there’s no harm in getting something second hand. You can buy it, or even better, maybe talk a family member into passing you one of their pieces of cast iron!
2. One Pan at a Time
I wouldn’t suggest going out and buying a new cookware set straight away. If you are used to cooking with Teflon, it’s better to replace pans as you go. Cast iron, for example, is more work. It’s heavier, and you need to change your cooking style slightly. What if you hate it? Try one, second hand, pan before you buy more. Who knows – maybe you’ll love it and get a set.
3. Take a Look at, or Through Glass Cookware
I recently researched and wrote about glass cookware, which I find interesting. Do you know there is such a thing as a glass frying pan? I have been thinking about getting one (and keeping it away from my children!) I will wait until my nonstick pan starts to wear though. I don’t need it straight away, so why not use what I’ve got? It’s the opposite of sustainable to throw away perfectly usable pans.
4. Less Cookware
I write about cookware so maybe that’s why I have a bit too much in my kitchen! My kitchen isn’t huge but it isn’t the smallest either. I always feel like there isn’t enough room though. Sometimes less is more. If you can’t afford a full sustainable cookware set, perhaps you don’t need all the pieces? As an example, I don’t use a proper griddle to cook pancakes – I use a normal pan.
5. Go For Flexible Pans
A way of using less energy is by having fewer pans. It also has the advantage of clearing some space in your kitchen. I can use the same pan for different things then that helps declutter my kitchen. Versatility can come in different ways and depends on each person, but for example:
- Oven safe can be convenient
- Having a lid makes it easier to turn a frying pan into a saute or even saucepan
- Being easy to clean means they are ready to use for the next meal
- Fitting on one burner on the stove but having a decent capacity. For a frying pan, 10 inches seems to work well
- Whatever you do make sure it’s what you need, and it works for you.
6. Mix It Up!
Flexibility goes more than one way. By mixing and matching you increase what you can do. For example, when heating liquids, stainless steel is fantastic. This is great for cooking things like pasta, soup, and sauces, or for steaming. So a stainless steel stockpot can be a great idea. But then a large cast-iron skillet could help with popping corn, frying, and searing.
7. Consider Cores
Copper or Aluminum cores are a great way of using these conductive metals. Copper bottoms often wear off. A core is inside the pan so avoids this problem. It will save you money in the long run through more efficient heating – plus not more hot spots!
8. Consider All Your Options
If you need to fry some eggs, perhaps even consider a small nonstick pan. Yes, it’s better to use the cast iron skillet, if you can, but it is harder! Actually even better could be a stainless steel frying pan with a copper core as it wouldn’t need much heat. Except the eggs will probably stick. If you can deal with that – perfect!
9. Beware Coatings
Coatings are the “Gotcha!” of cookware. Do you think you are buying a healthy stone pan? Great – but what’’s it coated in? Apart from chemicals, the coating will eventually wear away and you’ll need to replace the pan.
10. Be Realistic
The worst thing you can do is go and buy a sustainable cast iron cookware set and never use it. Are you prepared to do the extra work? Do you even have the time? You can buy really low maintenance, sustainable cookware for a high price. You can also get some nice, affordable, sustainable cookware that does need a little work. Getting affordable, long-lasting, sustainable cookware that doesn’t need any maintenance – well that might be harder!
What Cookware Should I Get Then!? What should you aim for in the long term? Here are my thoughts:
- Up to 1 Nonstick frying / sauté pan with an aluminum body to heat food quickly. Or (better yet) a stainless steel pan with a copper or aluminum base or core.
- A stainless steel stockpot, ideally with copper or aluminum base of the core.
- A cast-iron Skillet
- Steamer / colander – stainless steel
- Ceramic or glass bakeware
Of course, it depends on what you cook. Want a nice crunchy stir fry? Then a carbon steel wok is perfect. And, clearly, the larger the family the more cookware you need!
Thanks, Beatriz for 2 great articles and information about the differences in cookware and what’s sustainable and what’s not. I appreciate your contribution to holistic and sustainable living from all aspects. Now we know something about sustainable cookware. Got any tips, comments? Beatriz and I would love to hear from you. Enjoy. Judith
Beatriz Garcia is my guest blog post writer this week. She reached out to me recently about sustainable cookware and I found her information useful. We often look at packaging as sustainable or not but what about our kitchen cookware? Summer is also a time for weddings and purchases for college dorms. I happen to be a fan of cast iron. Yes, they are heavy but I find them easy to clean and I like the even heating. What type of cookware is your favorite and why? Beatriz and I would love to hear from you.
Beatriz Garcia found out about the sustainable side of cookware when researching healthy cookware for her site Clan Kitchen. You can find her writing there in the rare moments she isn’t busy looking after her family. Beatriz is keen to cook healthily and sustainably, but also has to balance this with quickly cooking foods her kids want to eat!
Whatever material you choose, you need to beware of the coating. If, for example, you want to avoid Teflon, then you should look for “PTFE free”. Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is the active ingredient in Teflon. Unfortunately, many pans are advertised as PFOA free. This is not helpful – PFOA was banned years ago. Other chemicals are now used to manufacture PTFE! Unfortunately, when reviewing different pans, I’ve found many ceramic or stone pans actually have a coating that includes PTFE. People buying those bands could be misled by this. I certainly wouldn’t expect a ceramic or stone pan to include Teflon. Dr. Mercola, the number one holistic wellness expert, and site in the world, says this about Teflon coatings:
“In fact, the convenience of a nonstick or stain-resistant surface comes at a steep price, as such chemicals persist in the environment, are contaminating water supplies and have been linked to developmental problems, cancer, liver damage, immune effects, thyroid problems and more.”
My advice here is that if you are buying a pan that advertises itself as non-stick; check if it is PTFE free. If it doesn’t state PTFE free, then it probably does have Teflon. This is especially the case with ceramic, stone, aluminum pans, or any pan with a special coating. Here’s the problem with coatings in general: They wear away over time. And when they wear away, the pan loses any non-stick properties it had. The underlying layer/body of the pan is also exposed. This is often not healthy. For example, Aluminum exposure may cause Alzheimer’s. Once the coating of any pan starts to chip, I’d recommend throwing it away. And here we are back to the durability issue! One coating that you can repair is the seasoning on cast iron or carbon steel pans.
It’s not just the energy used in creating the pan that counts, but also the energy used every time you cook with it! The miles per gallon metric for cars is unachievable and unrealistic. But at least it allows you to compare different cars. Yet cookware doesn’t come with anything like that. How can we compare? The overall conductivity of each material to get an idea of which cookware is best. This isn’t perfect, but it’s something.
Examining this factor suggests copper and aluminum top the charts, followed by cast iron. Stainless steel is the worst of the typical cookware metals. You don’t normally expose food directly to copper or aluminum for safety reasons. One option is a copper or aluminum core to help conduct and spread the heat. Some pans even have a copper bottom. I can’t imagine a layered pan would make the job of recycling any easier though!
This might also depend on how you cook though. Cast iron is in the middle of the conductivity range and takes ages to heat up. But there is a way around this! Heat the cast iron pan before putting the food on it, then turn it off the stove when the food is almost ready. The pan keeps its heat a while and carries on cooking. With a little bit of practice, you can get the timing right on this.
So, you’re sold on sustainable cookware but you’re not sure what to do next! Perhaps you don’t have money to just go and buy another cookware set. Keep using the pans you have for now, and watch out for my next article, where I will give you 10 tips on how to buy and afford, sustainable cookware.
Thanks, Beatriz, for sharing the above information on how to look at our cookware sustainably. Next week Beatriz offers 10 tips for buying sustainable cookware.
Remember your comments are appreciated.