Summer Chores, Achy Muscles, Essential Oil Muscle Rub

Summer gardening chores are in full swing. We have rain barrels around our garden. While that helps us harvest rain water, it does mean a bit more work watering. Weeding puts us on our knees or bending our backs. Produce is producing strong right now and that means gathering and putting them “up”. Whether canning or freezing, garden chores are in the intense mode during this part of summer.

Got a few aches? Maybe a sore muscle or two? Here’s a great muscle rub recipe that uses quality essential oils.

Recipe: Essential oil: Soothing Muscle Rub

In aromatherapy, pine is used in saunas, steam baths and massage blends for sore muscles. The natural evergreen aroma of pine essential oil is a sweet alternative to harshly medicinal pharmaceutical preparations. Here’s a recipe that combines the oils of several plants used to add, therapeutic fragrance to steams and saunas or to apply to sore muscles at the end of a gardening day.

Ingredients:

30 drops pine essential oil
30 drops juniper berry essential oil
30 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops lemon essential oil

Directions

To make a penetrating massage oil for overworked muscles, dilute 12 drops of this concentrated blend in 3 ounces of vegetable oil, such as sweet almond. This fragrant muscle rub is especially nice after a strenuous workout when muscles may be tight and sore.

Never apply concentrated essential oil blends directly to skin without diluting them first as irritation may develop. 

Enjoy. Judith

Grapes: Fruit on the Vine

Grapes have a rich and fascinating history. Experimentation on finding hardy varieties that produce good quality wines has been ongoing for centuries. Today 7.2 trillion gallons of wine are made per year. Parts of the plant today continue to be researched for nutritional and health benefits

Parts Used:

Leaves: smaller leaves are tastier than large leaves. Foragers typically pick them at about 3-4” long usually in the spring. Grapes leaves have a rich culinary history and many sites give great recipes. They also contain antioxidants and omega 3 fats. Stuffed with pasture raised meat and rice boosts healthy omega 3’s which supports cardiovascular health and helps decrease inflammation. The Cherokee used grape leaves in tea form for liver disorders and diarrhea.

 

Fruit: who can resist crisp cold grapes on a hot summer’s day? I know I can’t and while I like both green and red varieties I usually pick the red fruit for resveratrol. Some controversy continues today that in supplement form resveratrol, an antioxidant, could be detrimental or at least negate the benefits of exercise in men. However eating normal amounts of a daily serving of fruit doesn’t appear to pose any health risk. When out in the wild, fruits typically ripen late summer, early fall. They also contain Vitamin K, fiber and potassium. (Note: the photo at the right is a picture of muscadine grapes, Vitus rotundifolia which many birds love. It is also the host to local species of the sphinx moth.)

What about pesticide residues on commercial grapes? Good question. It seems commercially grown grapes are loaded with pesticide residues. In fact, 56 have been identified. It’s my understanding that grapes are one of our most heavily pesticide use food crops.  I place my grapes in cool water and add 1/4 cup vinegar to water and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Then I rinse thoroughly and dry. Vinegar can be helpful in washing residues off fruits and vegetables.

Seeds: Grapeseed Extract made from grapeseeds is intensively studied. Does it have health promoting effects on cardio vascular tissue? Does it mitigate inflammation? It does have specific antioxidants. Antioxidants protects cells from free radical damage. Today grapeseed extract is being used to help in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancers.

Foraging and Survival Fact: Out on a trail overnight? Grape vine stems have a bark that peels. Small amounts of this remove easily and can be effective fire tinder. And, cut grape vines, in most cases, provide potable water; cut vine and you will see liquid water substance which can be safely drunk and quench thirst.

 

Grape Juice: I discovered homemade grape juice by accident. I was making jelly from wild grapes. Once I cooked and mashed the grapes to remove skins and seeds I was left with a bright wine red juice. I let it cool and tried it a bit later. I had not added any sugar at this point and found I didn’t need to. It was delicious.

The specific colors in fruits and vegetables contain specific antioxidants that scientists are studying for health benefits. Fresh grape juice is loaded and may even protect one against Type 2 Diabetes.

Grapes by the handful are a refreshing snack. Some folks eat the seeds too. Depending on where they come from and how farmed, I would be cautious.  Harvesting from your own woodlands is a different story.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. 

Fall Foraging: Wild Blueberry Leaves and Vinegar

wild-blueberries

Blueberries are one of the most delicious and nutritious foods in our landscapes. Highbush and lowbush are found throughout New England by roadsides in Maine, around marsh lands here in my neck of the woods in Connecticut. Free for the taking, they are not as juicy as the cultivated varieties but just as tasty. They can easily be put into jams, pies, muffins etc. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, shares many recipes.

Blueberries are usually picked in mid to late summer. Once harvested by hand or eaten by wildlife, then, the leaves can be plucked, washed and dried. Blueberries are deciduous shrubs and will lose their leaves anyway. No harm comes to the plant by harvesting some leaves for tea making. I randomly pick leaves from several bushes looking for the greenest leaves.

In doing research for this article I learned that the leaves pack more antioxidants than the fruit! That’s a plus for so many reasons. Ongoing research is demonstrating blueberry leaves effect on lowering blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, and various cancers. Gallic acid, one of the leaves chemical constituents, is an antioxidant which decreases pain, swelling associated with inflammation.

Usually 1 tsp of dried leaves is added to one cup of boiling water. With Blueberry leaves 2 tsp are okay. Let steep for 20 -30 minutes.

Caution: For more serious conditions it is best to check with a Naturopathic physician or practitioner who has experience in herbal medicine for proper dosage and management of diseases such as diabetes.

Vinegars packed with herbs are considered a tonic food, defined as one that strengthens and invigorates. Herbs soaked in vinegar are a great way to get some of the food benefits of plants. Some herbalists do not strain the vinegar as noted below. Instead they add the soaked herbs maybe a tablespoon or two onto salads or mixed in soups.

Due to its high antioxidant value, I added blueberry leaf into my tonic vinegar. (see recipe below) the other herbs in the formula are packed with nutrients, especially minerals. Trace amounts of various nutrients may work synergistically and research is ongoing.

Vinegar Tonic Recipe:
2 parts dulse
2 parts red raspberry leaves
2 parts blueberry leaves (wild preferred)
1 part dandelion leaves
1 part oatstraw
1 part alfalfa
1/2 part horsetail
1/2 part borage

Parts are determined by the size jar you choose. I recommend you use an 8 oz jar.

  1. Fill jar with herbs: 1 part =  1 tsp
  2. Fill jar with organic apple cider vinegar
  3. Cover and shake
  4. Place on sunny windowsill and shake every day or so
  5. Let sit for 4-6 weeks, strain, add honey if preferred to taste.
  6. Take 1 tbs per day

Vinegar’s sharpness can be cut with honey. A tablespoon a day can be added to apple juice, taken plain or added to salad dressing. I find this type of recipe nourishing and even energizing. But, don’t take my work for it. Make some of your own and share how you like it. I would enjoy hearing from you.

Enjoy, Judith

Safely Forage: Elderberry Look – a – Like

 

Elderberries are ripening. It’s time to get out before the birds eat them all. In my neck of the woods I find berries ripe for the picking and some that need a few more days. Some of course, are eaten by the birds. I leave berries for them and then move on to the next shrub. I also find pokeweed mixed in at this time of year. Pokeweed stems are getting tall. Their leaves and berries hide over and under the elderberries. Are the pokeweed berries edible? No. therefore it’s important to properly identify both species so you can pick the right ones.

I have included a picture of this lookalike, Pokeweed, mentioned above.
Pokeweed: Phytolacca americana, is very common to our area. Though the flowers are different, the purple berry can be easily confused with elderberry. The berries of pokeweed are NOT edible and can cause a very bad stomach ache and should not be eaten by children. Notice the stems of both plants? Both are pink.

The young shoots in early spring, 6” tall or less can be eaten as a pot herb. Foraged greens like poke weed need to be boiled two or three times to make the green palatable. Pokeweed is typically shorter than elderberry, easily bent and can be invasive. I always recommend folks to check 3-5 filed guides when identifying a plant and to check with someone who can verify the plant before consuming.

Elder Berries: Two most common uses for elderberries and probably most known, are elderberry wine and cordials. These concoctions and using the juice of elderberry, are some of the best known prevention products against the flu and chills.

Nutrition Facts: “According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a cup of elderberries yields .96 g of protein, .72 g of fat, 26.68 g of carbohydrates and 10.2 g of total dietary fiber, all at a modest 106 calories. Elderberries are cholesterol-free, virtually fat-free and low in sodium.”

Recipe: Vinegars are easy to make, have a good shelf life and are an easy way to preserve nutrients from many herbs, culinary included.  Organic apple cider vinegar is always my first choice though the chefs among us probably have a favorite wine or rice vinegar that will work too.

Recipe: Elder Berry Vinegar

Pick 2 lb of elderberries and dry them

Place in a quart jar and pour vinegar over berries.

Let sit, shake every few days. Strain after 2 weeks. This condiment can be added to salad dressings, to flavor sauces, as a marinade etc.

Other Suggestions: Elderberry has had an esteemed place in our kitchens and our medicine cabinets. Elderberry jam is easy to obtain in our area. I usually purchase some from farm markets to have on hand throughout the winter months. Elderberry syrup can be purchased at pharmacies and health food stores. Elderberry lozenges help soothe a sore throat. Do you have a favorite recipe using elderberries? I would like to hear from you…Enjoy.

 

 

 

Summertime Meadow Plants: Wild Bergamot

 

When I think of bergamot I think red. Bright red flowers add a punch of color, attract bees and butterflies and are a garden favorite. Wild bergamot, also known as purple bee-balm, brings color to late summer meadows too. Native to the US it can be found across the country favoring woodlands, thickets and prairies. It is an aromatic herbaceous perennial with square stems that spreads by seeds and rhizomes. Delicate purple flowers bloom from June to September. In the managed meadow near where I live, wild bergamot with dainty lavender flowers sway in summertime breezes and addrsz_1rsz_1rsz_wild_bergamot[1] to the meadow land palette as summer moves along.

Botanical Name: Monarda fistulosa

Parts Used: leaves and flowers

Uses: this plant has been widely used by the Native culture across North America. Leaves were placed in water baths for infants. Tea from the leaves was a remedy for colds and lung congestions. The aromatic compounds in the mint family make this one a flavorful tea, by itself or in combination with other herbs, served hot or cold. Oswego tea, made from wild bergamot, is named after the Oswego Indians in upstate New York.

Flowers make a colorful edition to salads, as a garnish, also used in sun teas. The leaves have a stronger flavor and were and are used to flavor meat and poultry dishes.

Recipe: Sun Tea

Place bee-balm flowers in glass jar, cover with water and place in the sun at least 2 or more hours. Strain if desired, pour over ice and serve. Many flowers in our gardens are edible. Chives blossoms, viola, violet, wild daisies, yarrow, wild strawberry leaves and berries, chamomile, lavender, thyme and marjoram blossoms can be used too depending on preferred taste.

Nutritional Value: the colorful flowers contain flavanoids, powerful antioxidants that are health promoting. Quercetin, an antioxidant identified in bergamot, seems to help relieve  late summer allergy season symptoms. Native Americans also used a tea of the leaves to treat parasites and worms.  Science is now proving these claims to be true.

The leaves contain thymol which has antibacterial and anti- fungal effects and seem to have the ability to inhibit the growth of E. coli.

Wild bergamot is waning. The dried flowers still have a rich minty scent. Gather a few if you can and make a refreshing summer tea over ice. Though many flowers are waning, ice tea sounds good as it’s another hot day here in New England.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. 

 

Summertime Meadow Plants: Red Raspberry

some berry over Wood. Strawberries Raspberries Blueberry

some berry over Wood. Strawberries Raspberries Blueberry

Brambles, thorny understory woody shrubs, are found at many a forest or meadow edge.  These shrubs, when left untended, can take over land and challenge our home landscapes. Our black and red raspberries fall into this  category and like apples, pears, quinces and many other fruits, they are related to roses.

Whether blackberries, or the red and black raspberry, both producing fruit right now as summer meanders along, can create a thicket of prickly shrubs either welcome for their fruit or cursed because they are nearly impossible to get rid of.

Michael Pollan reminds us in his book, “Second Nature “nothing (in nature) sits still, well, maybe for just a brief moment.”

I think of the brambles that insist on filling in any space unused and once in the yard can be cut back but rarely are they gone for good. Brambles are also a wild life habitat providing food and refuge for many species.

Berries are one of my favorite summertime treats. Red raspberry farms are open for pick it yourself options. Black raspberries (see previous post) are out too and prevalent in the CT woodland and meadow areas. Blueberries are also ripe and ready for picking.

Typically I look for the raspberry family by checking the underside of leaves to ID correct berry. I gather leaves from younger canes of the red raspberry shrub as they make a great soothing tea. I dry some of the berries I harvest for winter use. I also place fresh berries on a cookie sheet,  put in the freezer. Once frozen I put them in freezer bags and then take out for a breakfast treat on a cold winters morning when the chill reminds me that spring is far away.

If you have brambles at the edges of your property you can easily distinguish the red raspberry from the blackberry: look at the underside of the leaves. Red raspberry leaves have a silver green underside whereas blackberries do not.

For this post I would like to share and remind us of the benefits of raspberries and some of the new research.

The Details:

Name: Red Raspberry: Rubus idaeus (Rosaceae family)
Parts Used: leaves and fruit, perennial
Varieties: Rubus idaeus is considered the cultivated variety; Rubus strigosus is considered the wild variety.
Where found: temperate climates as these berries need a period of cold in order to flower

How to maintain:

“Raspberry plants produce biennial canes, which means that the first year they are vegetative only and don’t produce fruit. The second year, they flower and produce fruit, but then die. The plants that fruited for you last year can be removed because they are dead anyway. Those that were vegetative last year will or should produce fruit this season. It is best to get the old canes removed as soon as possible. Most people get around to it in the fall after a couple of hard frosts.” 

Heath benefits:

1. Obesity: raspberries contain antioxidants and other nutrients such as rheosmin (also called raspberry ketone). The theory is the metabolism in our fat cells can be increased by certain plant constituents. One, rheosmin for instance, seems to increase enzyme activity, increase O2 consumption, increase heat production  all which may contribute to lowering the risk of obesity.

2. Organic raspberries when tested against non organic raspberries out perform in terms of their antioxidant activity.

3. Cancer: what makes a cell turn cancerous? Why some and not others?  This is ongoing research and what role do the plant constituents in raspberries play? Research is showing antioxidants, when given to lab animals with various tumors, show a decrease in oxidative stress (means they help diminish the damage from free radicals) decreases inflammation or reduces cancer cell promotion. This is not new research. What is new is that the unique plant constituents in raspberries may be able to change the signal, specifically, signal a cancer cell to begin a death cycle. A cell that is cancerous overrides its death instruction. This is a very important understanding of plant constituents and the roles they play in keeping us healthy. Pretty amazing isn’t it and the antioxidant effects are greater in organically grown berries.

Enjoy all the fresh organic berries you can find. Dry, freeze for winter use.

Today is beautiful here. Gotta get outside and talk a walk I hope you can enjoy the outdoors too.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. Including photos.