Herbal Infusions, Salves, and Tinctures

A few weeks ago, students at the Community Teaching Garden got an introductory lesson in herbalism. Herbalism is the age-old practice of using herbs and herbal products to support health. Since humans evolved using the plants they found in nature to help them remain healthy, many people view plant-based medicine as less harsh and more holistic than Western medicine practices. Herbalism also fosters a deeper connection to the natural world and offers people a means of somewhat self-sufficient care since many of the plants used in herbal medicine can be grown in your own backyard.

While there are many herbs that are safe for self-prescription, it is important to recognize that herbs, like drugs, have active compounds. Some can interact with medicines or negatively affect pre-existing conditions, so in many cases it is better to talk to a trained herbalist before taking a new herbal product.

Denise taught students the uses of four herbs—burdock root, comfry, tulsi, and plantain—all of which are considered mild enough to be used without concern. Students learned how to concentrate and preserve these herbs for later use by creating tinctures and infusions.

Tinctures:

A tincture is an extract made by soaking an herb in alcohol. The method we used is known as the “simplers” method, in which vodka or brandy (40-50% alcohol) is simply poured over the herb mixture. The other method, generally used by those who have more experience with herbs, involves mixing pure grain alcohol with water to create an ideal alcohol percentage for the tincture of a given herb.

Burdock Root

 

Burdock plant in its first year, when it can be harvested for its root. Photo from weeds.cropsci.illinois.edu

Burdock root comes from a large plant that looks similar to rhubarb. It is a biennial, meaning that it has a two-year life cycle. The first year, the plant develops a large, thick root and only a small grouping of leaves, while the second year it produces a great deal of foliage but less root. Since the root is the part of the plant used in herbal medicine, burdock is generally harvested during its first year when the root is largest.

Photo from seriouseats.com

Burdock root, which is eaten as a vegetable in Japan, is used in herbalism as a digestive aid. A mild bitter, burdock stimulates the production of digestive juices such as stomach acid and bile, allowing the body to better digest and absorb food. It is also high in inulin, a fiber that helps promote healthy gut bacteria (that you have already kick-started if you’ve been eating your sauerkraut from last week like the good gardeners that you are!).

To make a tincture of burdock root simple wash and dice the harvested stems. Pack them in a sealable jar and cover them with either plain vodka or brandy so that the alcohol covers the burdock by at least half an inch. Store the jar in a cool, dark place and shake it once or twice a day to help release the compounds from the root. The tincture will take on a cloudy appearance because of the inulin. After about 6 weeks strain the mixture through cheesecloth into a jar to remove the chunks of root. The liquid can then be stored in a cool, dark place. A spoonful of burdock root tincture can be taken before meals to improve digestion or used in combination with other herbs prescribed by an herbalist.

Tulsi

Photo from http://www.onlyfoods.net

Tulsi, which is also called “holy basil” since it is a relative of culinary basil, is a multi-purpose herb that has gained popularity in recent years. It is used in traditional Indian medicine, called Ayurveda, for a variety of conditions but is most well known for its use as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are compounds that help the body respond to stressors, helping the body reduce anxiety and promoting well-being.

Tulsi can be used in a variety of forms ranging from powders to teas to tinctures. To make a tincture out of Tulsi simply chop up the fresh herb and pack it into a sealable jar. Cover the herb by at least half an inch with either plain vodka or brandy. Seal the jar and store it in a cool dark place, shacking once or twice daily. Strain through cheesecloth after about six weeks and store the tincture in a cool dark place. Half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of the tincture can be taking two to three times a day to help the body adapt to stress.

Infusions:

Infusions are made by steeping an herb in oil to draw out the desired compounds in the herb. Typically, infusions are made with either olive oil or an aromatic oil such as almond oil. Vegetable, canola, and soybean oil are not suggested for making tinctures. When making infusions you generally dry the herbs beforehand, otherwise the moisture can cause mold to grow while the herb is steeping.

Comfrey

 

Photo from fitlife.tv

Comfrey is used in herbal medicine to aid in the healing of sprains, strains, and bruises. Active compounds in comfrey promote skin regeneration which helps the body heal itself. However, the active compounds are strong enough that they are not recommended for open wounds because they have been found to cause skin to heal too quickly at the surface of a wound, disrupting the body’s normal, bottom-up repair and increasing the risk of infection.

In the past, comfrey was taken orally as a cure for stomach upset. However, research has found that comfrey has high levels of a substance that is toxic to the liver, and can cause serious liver damage. Oral comfrey products have been ban in the US and a number of other countries. Topical ointments are safe in moderation (a week or two at a time is fine), but the toxins can be absorbed by the skin so it is best to avoid prolonged use, and care should be taken with children and pregnant or nursing women to avoid possible liver damage.

To make an infusion of comfrey simply dry the herb and crush it into a sealable jar. Pour oil over the comfrey, covering it by about half an inch. Put the lid on the jar, shake, and set in the sun for a few days. The heat of the sun helps the active compounds from the herb seep into the oil while insuring that the temperature does not get hot enough to cause damage to the oil. Once the oil has sat for a few days strain it through cheesecloth into a jar and place in a cool, dark spot. If you want to create a salve simply heat the oil gently on the stove and add beeswax, a little at a time, to the oil. To test the consistency of the salve put a small spoonful of the mixture in the refrigerator or freezer for a minute or so. Keep adding beeswax until the mixture has reached the desired consistency. You can rub either the oil or salve on sprains and bruises to help your body recover more quickly.

Plantain

 

Photo from http://www.prairielandherbs.com

Plantain is a very common weed that can be found in most grassy areas. It has compounds that help reduce pain and swelling from insect bites and bee stings. It can also be used in cooking as a spinach substitute and is a good source of vitamins. In the summer, you can easily make a poultice by crushing up the fresh leaves to put on bites. However, in the winter, when fresh plantain is not readily available, a infusion or salve can come in handy. To make an infusion or salve out of plantain just follow the same procedure as was explained for comfrey.

 

***With all of these herbs, make sure you are harvesting them from a safe area. If you are not sure whether or not an area has been sprayed with pesticides or fertilizer, it is best to avoid picking herbs there. In Burlington and other areas with old houses you should also be cautious about using herbs from lawns that have not had the soil tested for lead since lead-based paint can contaminate plants.***

Advertisements

Week 16: August 19-24: First Week of Student Presentations

Topics:

  • Mosquito and tick-born diseases and prevention
  • How-to make Dahl, an Indian food staple
  • Container gardening
  • Food preservation and what it takes to be self-sustaining

This was the first of student presentations. These presentations are a great way to get to know one another a bit better, to cultivate a learning community, and to start thinking about taking what we are learning in this class and to spread it elsewhere.

Heather works for the Department of health, and gave an informative presentation on mosquito and tick diseases, and recommendations on how to prevent them. This topic, the mosquitos in particular, hit close to home for Tommy Thompson gardeners, as we sat in the clover patch, with mosquito head netting. For more information, please refer to the Department of Health website, http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/arbovirus/index.aspx.

Next, Anu presented on the art and memory of Indian cooking. He talked us through the process of making a staple in the Indian diet: dahl. Anu told us that before coming to the US, he would eat this once a day at least. When dal is eaten with a bread or grain, you are able to access the essential proteins and vitamins. Here is a link to Anu’s recipe: http://chefinyou.com/2008/12/tadka-dal-recipe/

Image

Steve gave a wonderful presentation on container gardening. He has been cultivating a porch garden all summer and led us through his lessons learned and explained the pros and cons of a container garden versus a traditional garden. Steve tested some of the Gardener’s Supply options for container gardens, including the tomato master,  self-watering containers and the carrot planter. He brought in a few of his plants, and we all had the excitement of turning over his potato container garden to see what the yield was (about 20 potatoes!).

Image

Jan started his presentation with the question “What does it take to grow enough food for the planet?” This inquiry drove the rest of his presentation, which delved into urban homesteading, salting, smoking and and brining meats, and preserving vegetables through presentation. Jan’s research showed that an average person would need 1 acre to feed themselves for an entire year. However, he found a family of four in CA, who claim to grow enough food on 1/10th of an acre to feed themselves and bring in $20,000/year in profit! Here is a link if you are interested in learning more:

http://urbanhomestead.org/urban-homestead

On Saturday gardeners had a tour of the no-till garden on the Tommy Thomson site, led by Wendy Coe (Site coordinator at the TT Community Garden), Ron Krupp (Long time gardener and author), and Fred Schmitt (On the Vermont Community Garden Network Board of Directors). We talked about the history and layout of the site, and then walked into their gardens and had the chance to ask questions to those who have been here for a while. Many thanks to Fred, Wendy, and Ron. Ron has also offered to sell his book, The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening, to students in our class at half price! (http://woodchuckgardeningvt.com/)

Image

This is the beauty of a community garden- learning together, listening, and asking questions.

We wish you much growth and health- garden and otherwise- in the week to come!

Week 15: August 12 to August 17 – Goodbyes and Gorgeous Veggies

Topics:

  • Jessie’s presentation

Summary of the Week:

  • Presentation on Jessie’s experience in Mexico and migrant farmers in Vermont
  • Successional planting to replace shared peas section with spinach
Image
Weeding as the sun sets.

The Community Teaching Garden was buzzing with excitement this week as the harvesting of new vegetables continued. New plants to take home are welcoming students each week and there have been many discussions about what to cook with all of the new choices from the garden. Some students raved about the quality of their lettuce while others decided what to do with all of their zucchini! The list of vegetables being grown at the Community Teaching Garden is expanding each class as new plants pop up each week.

Image
A zinnia at the garden.
Image
Broccoli!
Image
Beets and a cucumber!
Image
Squash!
Image
Lemon cucumbers and beans!

It was a productive week at the garden as we harvested some of our favorite vegetables and also learned about migrant farm workers from Southern Mexico, who are working in Vermont. Jessie started off the group presentations by discussing her experiences in Mexico and how that led her to become involved with migrant farm workers living and working in Vermont through organizations such as Migrant Justice.

Image
Jessie talked about her experience with migrant workers and trip to Mexico.

With beautiful weather, student presentations, yummy cherry tomatoes, it was the perfect week to end my summer at the garden. Thank you all so much for such a great summer. I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet all of you and see the community develop over the course of the summer. Thank you for teaching me everything each of you knows about gardening and contributing to the great summer I had at the Community Teaching Garden. Happy gardening for the rest of the summer and I cannot wait to see the delicious veggies that you harvest as the season continues.

Thanks again, Erin.

Great recipes from fellow students

Veggies are starting to be ready to harvest! Not sure what to do with all your garden bounty? Here are some delicious recipes that CTG students have been cooking up!

ImageAlaina’s Garden Salad

Ingredients:
  • Red leaf lettuce, washed and trimmed
  • Lemon cucumber, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Fig balsamic vinegar

Directions:

  1. Combine the prepared lettuce and cucumber in a bowl
  2. Add the olive oil and vinegar to your taste and toss to combine

Image

Zucchini Fritters (recipe and photo from Natasha’s Kitchen)
Ingredients:

  • 1 lb zucchini (about 2 medium)
  • 1 tsp plus ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup diced green onions or chives
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Olive oil for frying
Directions:
  1. Wash zucchini and trim ends. Grate zucchini on the large grating holes.
  2. Place grated zucchini in a large bowl and stir in 1 tsp salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. After 10 minutes, squeeze handfuls of zucchini over the sink to remove extra water, using a cheesecloth if you have one handy.
  4. Stir in 1/4 tsp salt (or to taste), 1/4 cup chopped green onion, 1 egg, and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper.
  5. In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder.
  6. Stir the dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture and mix well.
  7. In a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over med-high heat.
  8. Using a tablespoon or ice cream scoop, add zucchini mixture to the skillet and gently flatten the tops with a spatula.
  9. Cook about 3-5 min per side on medium-high heat, adding oil as needed, until golden brown. If they are browning too quickly, reduce heat to medium (if you like yours on the thicker side, you can put them in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees F). Place on a paper towel for a few minutes to soak up some oil.
  10. Serve topped with sour cream and chives or green onions.
Have you made any great recipes with the veggies from your garden? Let us know, we’re dying to share more of your delicious creations!

Week 14: August 5 to August 10 – Herbs and Enormous Zucchinis

Topics:

  • Medicinal herbs
  • Herbal tinctures

Summary of the Week:

  • Lessons on herbs from Denise
  • Starting to prepare for student presentations
Image
Summer squash sharing.

The summer has flown by and the nights are already starting to feel shortened by the earlier sunsets. The shorter nights have not stopped us from showing up each week and working hard until it is too dark to continue. This week Denise shared her knowledge of herbs with us and she taught us how to utilize the many benefits of medicinal herbs.

Image
Learning about herbs with Denise.Image

ImageThe garden was full of new vegetables to harvest this week. There were perfect zucchinis, lemon cucumbers, cabbage, and lots of lettuce.

Image
Awesome zucchini harvest!
Image
Lots of cabbage!
Image
Lemon cucumber.

This Saturday both classes are invited to meet at the Community Teaching Garden at 10:00 to learn about the edible plants available to forage at the Intervale!

Lacto-fermentation

Throughout history people have employed a variety of techniques to preserve food. Attempts to stretch foods past their usual growing season resulted in a variety of preservation methods worldwide including salting, canning, drying, and lacto-fermentation. While some of these methods are still considered commonplace today, others have lost popularity over time and are only recently regaining their place at the table.

Lacto-fermentation is one such preservation method. While lacto-fermented foods are still popular in many cultures worldwide, they are unfamiliar to most people in the United States. In recent years, however, lacto-fermentation has gained more public interest as its numerous health benefits became more apparent.

The making of sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented food products relies on promoting the growth of a family of bacteria called lactobacilli, which is already present on most foods, though in small amounts. As lactobacilli grow and reproduce they create a substance called lactic acid, which kills of other, unhealthy bacteria and gives the food its vinegar-like taste. The presence of lactobacilli and lactic acid in fermented foods provide several health benefits such as supporting healthy gut bacteria, reducing the likelihood of developing candida (a yeast infection of the intestine), and potentially reducing the risk of cancer.

The lacto-fermentation process is simpler than you might expect. All you need to create your own lacto-fermented vegetables is your veggie(s) of choice, non-iodized salt, boiled water, and a canning jar. Unlike some other fermentation techniques, which require a starter culture, lacto-fermentation relies on the lactobacilli that is already present on the vegetables and in the environment to get the process started.

Here are two of our favorite lacto-fermentation recipes:

Image
Making sauerkraut at the Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden

Sauerkraut

What you’ll need:

  • 2 lbs of cabbage
  • 1 scant tablespoon of salt (MUST be non-iodized or the good bacteria will not grow)
  • 1 cup cooled boiled water
  • 1 medium sized bowl
  • 1 quart sized mason jar and lid
  • A spoon (and tamping stick if desired)
  • A cloth

What you do:

  1. Cut cabbage into shreds like you would for coleslaw
  2. Mix the cabbage and salt in a bowl, stirring to make sure the salt is evenly distributed
  3. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let sit until the cabbage has let go of some water (about 20 minutes)
  4. Spoon the cabbage mixture into a mason jar, pressing down or tamping every few scoops to pack down the cabbage and remove air bubbles
  5. Fill jar to no more than 1 inch from the top
  6. Add the cooled boiled to cover the cabbage mixture by a little over half an inch
  7. Screw on the lid, but leave loose enough to allow air to escape during fermentation
  8. Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for 2-5 days (the time it takes for the fermentation process to really get going can vary greatly) making sure to set it in a dish or baking pan to catch any liquid that may bubble out of the jar during fermentation
  9. Once the mixture stops foaming (1-7 days) pour more chilled boiled water to again cover the mixture by a little over half an inch and place the jar in either the refrigerator or cellar

Unopened, the jar will stay good for up to a year. Once opened, put the jar in the refrigerator and use within a month or two.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT eat any lacto-fermented vegetables that take on a strange color or develop mold. This is a sign that something went wrong during the fermentation process and the food could very likely make you ill. As heart breaking as it is to throw away your hard-earned vegetables, it is truly better not to risk it.

Image
A fresh batch of Pickled Ginger Carrots

Pickled Ginger Carrots

What you’ll need:

  • 1 lbs of carrots
  • 1/2 scant tablespoon of salt (MUST be non-iodized or the good bacteria will not grow)
  • 1/2 cup cooled boiled water
  • 1 medium sized bowl
  • 1 pint sized mason jar and lid
  • A spoon (and tamping stick if desired)
  • A cloth

What you do:

  1. Shred the carrots and ginger
  2. Mix the shredded vegetables and salt in a bowl, stirring to make sure the salt is evenly distributed
  3. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let sit until the cabbage has let go of some water (about 20 minutes)
  4. Spoon the carrot mixture into a mason jar, pressing down or tamping every few scoops to pack down the cabbage and remove air bubbles
  5. Fill jar to no more than 1 inch from the top
  6. Add the cooled boiled to cover the mixture by a little over half an inch
  7. Screw on the lid, but leave loose enough to allow air to escape during fermentation
  8. Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for 2-5 days (the time it takes for the fermentation process to really get going can vary greatly) making sure to set it in a dish or baking pan to catch any liquid that may bubble out of the jar during fermentation
  9. Once the mixture stops foaming (1-7 days) add more chilled boiled water to again cover the mixture by a little more than half an inch and place the jar in either the refrigerator or cellar

Unopened, the jar will stay good for up to a year. Once opened, put the jar in the refrigerator and use within a month or two.

***Again, DO NOT eat any lacto-fermented vegetables that take on a strange color or develop mold. This is a sign that something went wrong during the fermentation process and the food could very likely make you ill. As heart breaking as it is to throw away your hard-earned vegetables, it is truly better not to risk it.

Resources for additional information:

Week 13: July 29 to August 3 – Sauerkraut and More Sun!

DSC_0002
Start of the night at the garden.

Topics:

  • Lacto-fermenting vegetables
    • Sauerkraut
    • Ginger carrots

Summary of the Week:

  • Lessons on lacto-fermentation
  • Harvesting more plants
Image
Sunflowers at Tommy Thompson.

This week at the Community Teaching Garden, the lessons went beyond the garden and reached the kitchen as Denise taught us about lacto-fermentation. This is a safe process used to preserve many different types of food. Liz, a nutrition and food expert, will be sharing more information about the process, benefits, and recipes. Monday’s class worked on sauerkraut while ginger carrots were created on Wednesday.

Image
Learning about the preserving process from Denise.

We followed Denise’s lesson with more weeding and necessary garden maintenance on the individual plots as well as shared beds. As the summer progresses, each week brings more surprises and treats to be enjoyed while working away at the garden or to be saved later for planning an exciting new dish to cook later. Some gardeners are harvesting radishes upon radishes while others are thinning carrots and starting to find some worth eating.

Image
More carrots to come!
Basil.
Basil.
DSC_0036
Waiting for ripe tomatoes.

A week full of perfect weather came to a close with some more Vermont rain on Thursday to bring in the beginning of the month of August. Happy gardening!

End of the day at the garden.
End of the day at the garden.