Monday, November 30, 2015

PUMPKIN SOAP

I recently made some pumpkin soap using pumpkin puree for the first time. It turned out great!

I colored half of it with titanium dioxide and the other half using copper sparkle mica from Brambleberry.  I'm not impressed with the way the TD appears in the soap but I like the copper sparkle mica.




Sunday, November 8, 2015

CRYSTALLIZED HONEY

While I was at Valley Natural Foods the other day I was standing behind a couple in front of the honey shelf and I overheard them discussing the quality of the various honeys.  The woman leans in towards the man to tell him that some of the honeys had gone bad "you can tell because they are crystallized" she said.  I didn't correct them but I had to laugh to myself because prior to becoming a beekeeper (once upon a time) I use to think that too. I'd always toss out honey that had crystallized and I learned to do that from my mother who would say "that honey is bad."  So, here's the truth for those of you who have done the same.  Crystallized honey isn't bad, not even inferior.  In fact, it is great! Trust me, I learned this directly from the bee genius Marla Spivak.

Since I learned about this in my beekeeping course I now prefer my honey to be crystallized.  I'm a firm believer that if it doesn't crystallized at some point then it is an inferior product. Why? Because the more natural (raw) a honey is the more likely it is to crystallized or be sold in that form.

I purchase raw honey from a local beekeeper (sold at our natural food store) and my recent purchase looks like this:







I had two jars from the same MN beekeeper and one was liquid for about 1-2 weeks and the other solid (like you see above).  How is that possible?  Well, how fast a honey crystalizes depends on where the bees found their nectar.  Example: nectar that comes from goldenrod is more likely to crystallized faster than nectar that comes from blackberries.  So, the amount of sugar vs. water content is what contributes to the rate of crystallization or granulation.

Another factor affecting crystallization of honey is in how it's processed.  Heating and filtering is what keeps it from crystalizing and both can destroy the healing benefits of honey.  Commercial beekeepers will heat (pasteurize) up to 150 degrees F, filtering out all pollen, wax and other bee particles.  Makes honey pretty but not healthy.

It's easy to make honey liquid again without destroying the beneficial components (nutrients and enzymes), all you have to do is warm it up a little.  I prefer avoiding the microwave to do this, instead I'll use a pot of hot water (don't heat above 95 F) and set the honey jar inside til it is liquid again.

There is a huge misconception that pasteurizing (heating) makes the honey safer to consume.  That is not why commercial beekeepers or companies do this, they do it because the customer prefers it.  Not sure how that came to be but I'm assuming it is similar to why we preferred white soap over non-white...ADVERTISING! They market liquid & clear honey as "more appealing" to look at but in addition they'll also claim that their honey is also beneficial to your health when it isn't.  What made it clear and liquid also destroyed its beneficial properties.

So, buy RAW and don't be afraid if it is crystallized or granulated or if it was once liquid and becomes crystallized or granulated.  Honey does not expire in the way other foods do which is why you likely will not find an expiration date on locally made RAW honey from a small beekeeper.  When commercial honey is sold it often has an expiration date on the bottle or a "best if used by" date.  When you see this, remember it has nothing to do with the honey but more to do with the company selling it wanting you to buy another bottle.  That expiration date in conjunction with the crystallization will make you think your honey has gone bad but that commercial honey was crap to begin with.  It will still taste great and work fine in your tea, baking, etc… but it will not help you recover from a cold or sooth that sore throat the way RAW honey does.  Much of the commercial honey now is being adulterated with ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup so its best to avoid anyway but now I'm drifting off topic.

End of point… crystallized honey is NOT bad  :-)



Monday, September 28, 2015

GETTING READY FOR FLU SEASON WITH ELDERBERRY SYRUP

After learning I have an autoimmune disease and finding that I really struggle to overcome even the most basic illness I've decided to be proactive about maintaining wellness this year.  I've always done a few things to prepare our family for flu season, like making an elderberry tincture and keeping a natural version of antibacterial hand spray on hand for each person in the house but I've been warned by my ND and GP after my two trips to urgent care this past year that I need to be extra cautious about getting sick. So, how does someone NOT get sick? Well, I know it isn't completely avoidable but I'm going to try my best and if I can't keep myself from getting sick I can at least have something on hand to lessen the duration of an illness (time I have to suffer) and to help do this I made an Elderberry syrup.

Elderberry is known for its ability to lessen the duration of the flu, it is also good for alleviating the symptoms of a cold.

If you are interested in making your own syrup for this coming winter, here is how you do it; 

1/2 cup elderberries (dried) - sambucus nigra or sambucus nigra sbsp. canadensis
3 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks (broken up)
1 pinch of ground clove
1 pinch of dried ginger 
1/2 cup raw honey

I normally use fresh elderberries but our favorite spots to find the plant have now been destroyed by development :(  We do grow our own but the deer don't share so… this year I purchased elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs.  They also have a great video on making elderberry syrup if you prefer to follow that.  You do not have to use cinnamon, clove and/or ginger but I think it makes the syrup taste 1000x's better and they contain beneficial properties that aid in relieving various ailments. 

Make sure you use RAW HONEY, preferably local and organic.  There is a significant difference between raw honey and processed honey.  The antimicrobial and antibacterial enzymes found in honey are destroyed when honey is heated beyond a certain degree which is why the processed honey you usually find in grocery stores is not what you want to be consuming.  When people tout the benefits of honey they aren't referring to your grocery store variety, they are talking about the honey straight from the hive.  If you just want honey to use as a sweetener than go ahead and buy the processed version but if you are looking to benefit from honeys healing properties you'll want to buy RAW - ORGANIC - LOCAL
This also means you need to keep in mind that honey should never be heated above 95 degrees F. It's the heat that degrades honey.  In this recipe you'll probably want to have a thermometer on hand to make sure your liquid is at or below 95 F before you add your honey.


Measure out the water and place it in a sauce pan, then add your berries, broken up pieces of cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and a pinch of ginger. 


Bring to a boil and then cover and lower heat to a simmer for 40 minutes.  Make sure to stir the contents every 10 minutes as it simmers (to prevent sticking to the bottom of pan).


After 40 minutes remove from heat and strain.  I did this by covering a jar with cheese cloth because I couldn't find my strainer.  The joys of a disorganized kitchen.


After boiling I was left with 1 1/2 cups of liquid so to make sure the syrup wasn't too sweet or too bland I put in 1/2 cup of raw honey, stirred til it was completely dissolved and the taste was perfect!! (remember: do not add honey until temp of liquid is below 95 F). Pour into a glass jar for storage in the fridge.



Make sure you write the date on the top of your jar since you are going to want to discard any unused syrup after about 3 months.


This recipe makes a liquid syrup that is not the consistency of the syrup most people are use to.  It will not resemble maple syrup or have the thickness of Robitussin.  This is a watery syrup.  Make sure you refrigerate the finished product or it will go bad quickly.  This recipe does not contain a natural preservative, if you want to extend the shelf life of your recipe you'll need to add an alcohol like vodka or brandy.  Natural Fertility and Wellness has a great recipe with brandy included.



You can take this syrup as a preventative at a dose of 1 tsp a day to boost immunity otherwise if ill take 1 tsp 2x's daily. 

**Although a lot of research has been done on elderberry the verdict is still out on whether it is safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding, same goes for if you are on other medication or have any health problems so it is best to speak to your health care provider before using. 



Thursday, September 17, 2015

SHORT REVIEW ON MAD OILS

I placed my first order from Mad Oils recently; love the fast shipping, the personal touch "thank you" gift with FO sample and the quality of their essential oils and micas.  Unfortunately, after using their Lemon Cupcake mica my cp soap ended up looking a little orange instead of yellow :(  Their website says it isn't unusual to end up with orange the first 24 hours but it has been 2 weeks and it is still more orange than yellow.  Their micas do mix up nice and smooth in the raw soap though, better than other suppliers I have used.  I'll try using the yellow again in another recipe, this time with a different essential oil, and see how it turns out.

As for their Grape Nehi mica, that came out perfectly.  A perfect purple that lasts.  Also, their lavender essential oil has the truest and best scent of all those I have used from soap suppliers.

Mad Oils is definitely on my list of go-to shops for soap supplies.




Saturday, August 22, 2015

HERBAL STUDIES: PLANTAIN

Kids are always getting bit by something; mosquitos, black flies, deer flies, gnats, sand fleas… you name it and when they get bit they scratch, scratch, scratch and whine, whine, whine so as a parent you search for something to stop the itch and unfortunately everything you find is usually some commercial concoction that never really works anyway.  So what should you do? Reach for plantain.

Plantain is a child's best friend in the summer.  It not only stops the itch from biting bugs but it also ends the pain caused by stinging insects too.  My kids usually just grab a handful of plantain leaves, chew it up and slap it on the spot that needs attention but sometimes it is more convenient to have a plantain salve, like when out on a lake in a canoe or during travel when bringing fresh leaves along or finding it in the wild just isn't feasible.  So I had Aiyana make her first container of salve.

Here is a picture of plantain and you can read more about it HERE


To help identify plantain in the wild, here are a few helpful pictures

These seeds grow up from the center of the plantain plant

Plantain leaf

When you tear a plantain leaf you should see little vein strings as shown above



First, Aiyana went out and gathered a bunch of plantain leaves.



Washed and dried them.


Chopped them up.



Added them to the olive oil then heated.  The plantain sat in the warm oil for 2 hours.  This is the rush method.  I usually prefer keeping medicinal plants in a jar with oil for up to 6 weeks before straining but my daughter and I are on a mission, or I should say I am on a mission to teach as much as possible before the snow flies. LOL! So… we went with the rush method.  This oil sat for a week in the jar after  they were heated for 2 hrs.



She strained the oil out of the jar.


There are various ways you can extract the medicinal properties from a plant; we chose the solvent oil. You can tell the oil did its job by the color difference you see below.  Olive oil on left, plantains beneficial properties extracted into the olive oil on the right. 



 We poured the plantain oil into a double boiler, heated it up, added some beeswax to make the salve.



We think plantain oil stinks so we added lavender essential oil to to cut the smell.  Some people will add essential oils because of their beneficial properties but it is important to remember that eos are damaged by high heat, so to maintain their effectiveness you do not want to heat them above 80 degrees.  We used lavender eo in this recipe purely for the natural scent.


Here's the finished product after poured into tiny tins.


Couple notes on Plantain salve vs. Plantain leaves, we've found that the plant works much faster to relieve itching than the salve so if you have a choice, use the actual leaves from the plant.  The salve works but it takes a little more time.  We've also learned that it works really well on our dogs.  We have one dog that happens to be allergic to bug bites and certain types of material and when he develops hives the plantain salve brings about relief.

Herbal Roots does have an e-zine on plantain that is really good also.  The salve above is not listed but other crafts and ways of using the herbs are.

Recipe:

4 oz fresh plantain leaves
16 oz olive oil
.5 oz beeswax
24 drops lavender essential oil








Thursday, August 20, 2015

JUST SOME PICTURES

At this time of year we have every insect imaginable hanging out in our backyard.  You have to be very careful if you walk the trail around the Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod because literally hundreds of wasps, honey bees and bumble bees call the JPW & GR a source of food.
 
One of hundreds of yellow-jackets calling our yard home right now. They are hungry for the Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod.

Monarch butterflies are just interested in the Joe Pye Weed.

This little lady(bug) has been spending her day poking around the goldenrod.



I saw this frog and thought it was deformed but turns out it was crossing its legs like that on purpose.  Who knew they did that? I didn't.
 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

HERBS, HERBS, HERBS

I decided it was time to teach my youngest about herbs.  After quizzing her I found that she knows quite a bit but it was time to incorporate some fun stuff.  We are going to work our way through as many herbs as we can until winter arrives and our herb garden and wild medicinal plants have died back.  For each herb she is journaling, coloring, and creating. 

A while back I found this book:
You can find this for sale on Amazon - CLICK HERE
It has a bunch of cute kid stories about herbs such as The Lion and the Wise Teacher about dandelions or The Star's Gift about lemon balm.  It is a perfect addition to our herb study.  We also subscribe to Herbal Roots Zine which focusses on one particular herb and contains crafts, herbal remedies, stories, etc... Those we'll save for when the plants are all gone and it's too cold to go outside. The rest is all mom.  I created a "type" of herb curriculum that we'll be following until she tells me "mom, stop, I can't take anymore." LOL!


We started with Aiyana picking out a plant of her own to communicate with and she chose lavender.  She started talking to it, asking it questions… once she understood that on a basic energetic level we are connected to all things, even something as simple as a plant we moved on to lemon balm, my favorite herb.  It was the first herb I planted when we moved into our home 8 yrs ago and it has pretty much taken over a quarter of our yard (expected and wanted).


Unfortunately, our lemon balm has passed its prime for the season.  It now has flowers and no longer has that strong lemony scent which means the oil content is low.  My daughter is already somewhat familiar with the herb so it wasn't a problem, we just picked up the dried version from our local natural food store and worked with that.

No, it's not Lemon Ballom. LOL! We corrected that later. 
What did she create? Tea.  She loved making her own tea, can't say she loved the taste so much though. LOL! I told her as we move into other herbs she'll combine several for a much better tasting tea :-)


Next...

Plantain.

Plantain is perfect for bug bites and our mosquitos are now out in full force so my daughter will be making a plantain salve for those nasty itchy bites she always gets.
So, today we started with Lemon Balm.