Herbs forever

Posted on November 15, 2017

I've opened an Etsy shop for my herbs. Because the thing about herbs — I mean, I feel the need to explain since I'm the only one I know who's in love with them — is that they're some kind of magic. I was volunteering at Stearns Farm, minding my own beeswax, when I realized it. Just plugging along weeding vegetables every weekend. Then it struck me that I could learn what makes people say herbs are medicine. It seemed like a terrible waste to let Stearns's three herb gardens all die off for the winter without knowing what the heck they did.

Research is always the answer. One Kindle book later, I grew obsessed with lemon balm, which seemed like an easy one to identify, and it's pretty safe to try if there's nothing wrong with you. And Stearns had some! Cue the trumpets. Then I realized the farm had quite a few beginner-friendly herbs that I could play with: dandelion and burdock and red clover and comfrey (all this in addition to the calendula I began collecting around that time).

Over the winter, with my small store of herbs stashed in a drawer, I did more reading. And in the spring, I took over the herb gardens.

As I got to know the plants, I realized there were more medicinal uses than I would ever need, and that there's no point in taking medicines you don't need. All those wonderful plants, and I'd get to try only one minuscule amount of the non-culinary varieties.

Thankfully, history is full of herbal uses beyond eating: Luck! Protection! Love! Strength! The list goes on and on, and I read and learned and fell a little bit more in love every day. I could use them without having to eat them. For someone with food sensitivities out the ears, that is a very big deal.

I've done my fair share of reading and experimenting with my herbs. I love them all. It seems unnatural to me that they've fallen out of favor in our society (even as I know that's due in part to devaluing traditional women's knowledge and I could probably write a book about it. Or it's been done, right? Witches, Midwives, and Nurses. But I digress). In my small way, I like sharing these ancient uses for herbs and showing off how pretty they can be. And it's another way of supporting our little family, one that comes from something I've grown and made and can feel proud of.

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Rainy days

Posted on October 29, 2017


Rainy days in the tiny house are a strange animal. The house seems smaller in this weather with the windows closed and no excuse to take the baby outside. Lily mopes on the bed as the scent of wet dog slinks down from the loft. A gray gloom settles over the living space. We have to turn on the lights.

Yet we can hear the rain's flowing applause on the metal roof, and it is one of the coziest sounds I've ever heard. It makes me want to curl up in a blanket, and also to hug Seth. After all, he put on this roof. He is the reason why we have such a snug, dry house. His enduring quest for perfection, his love of the craft combined with (ahem) my ability to score a mean Craigslist deal.

We set out through the patchy showers this morning to visit a potential new house site. It's set in among the woods, with horses nearby, and trees all around. As you can see, there's space enough for growing as well.

Will this become our new landing pad? We're not sure, we have a lot to discuss with the landowners and each other. There are neighbors to consider, regulations and rent and commutes and things. And that indecision is part and parcel of owning a tiny house. Where do you put it? Will it work? Will we be happy? And safe? The tiny house doesn't eliminate these questions. I'd hazard a guess that it causes more questions than a big house because everything is so out of the ordinary on the tiny scale. But if you disagree, by all means chime in. I've never owned a non-tiny house.

It's nighttime now, and raining in gusts and waves. The baby is asleep. Mama is nearly there too. Yes we have questions and uncertainties, the stress of finding a parking site when our house isn't universally accepted and a wintertime deadline. But we also have the swelling and ebbing of rain on the roof. And that counts for quite a lot.

Can’t see the garden for the weeds

Posted on October 10, 2017

I just realized that I missed my garden update last week. I've been missing a lot of things lately. The migraines have been coming every second day since the tail end of August, and that sort of pattern wipes me out. Understandably, I haven't been so vigilant in the garden. And, well, for a while there it seemed as if my herbs were suppressing the weeds, so I sat back and enjoyed the break. But as the season approaches its end, the weeds are fighting back. I've got this sole photo as proof for the rest of the garden is so overgrown that it's hard to distinguish from the background.

My echinacea bloomed. If there is one plant I am truly glad to have, echinacea misses out on the top spot because calendula forever has my heart. These echinacea blossoms are gorgeous. I don't use them for anything and the root won't be ready until next year, so these are for pure enjoyment. The monarchs love them, and the bumblebees. Every time I visit the garden I watch the insects and feel thankful for flowers and friends who give flowers. Then I pick some more yarrow and clary sage and squirrel it away for herb bundling.

I gave my perennial culinary herbs a good trim, the last of the season so they can recover before winter sets in. There's time enough to mulch them. I still have to dig up the ashwaghanda root, and I want to collect several more heads of calendula seeds to save. Other than that, winter will cause my garden to die back. Most of the plants are native perennials; they'll be fine. I've got tentative plans for next year too. Fewer borage plants (just one, I think), more calendula, and some plot rearranging. It will be time to dig up the biennials too. But for now, rest! Rest is in order, and it sounds good.

A bit of organization

Posted on September 19, 2017


I had some rest time this weekend, and resolved to organize my herbal stuff. There's only so many times I can shift my herb bundles from counter to table and back again before the untidiness drives me to distraction.

I made some space under the counter for all the herbals that will be going up for sale, and the supplies I use to make them. That's all of the essences, the herb bundles for smudging and smoke cleansing, and the little finishes I used on my daily card base. It's been interesting coming up with a storage method for the herbs. The dried flowers are fragile and can't be stacked. Right now it looks like trays are my best bet.

The cupboard isn't appropriate for drying, as there's not enough air flow, so it looks like I'll need more drying screens. Or a workshop! For herbs! Oh dear, maybe we're going to turn into a tiny caravan.

Ebbs and flows

Posted on September 14, 2017


Time flies. I've had a busy few weeks, dating back to a recent acupuncture appointment. We talked about the possibility of Lyme Disease, which is no joke here in our part of Massachusetts, and since then I've felt a fire growing. Was it the words or the acupuncture treatment? Regardless, my ginger is up and all I know is that my hands want to be full of herbs. Everything else is taking a backseat to figuring out what I can do with my plants in the time I have left this season.

I have some ideas in the works, plans for helping people and selling the things I've been working on. They are so pretty! And we all know that I love pretty things. The more pretty things I sell, the more I get to make. Making and sharing herbs, connecting with people over one of my favorite subjects — this is what I'm after. Instagram is great for pretty things but not so strong on conversation.

At some point the season will die down and there will be time again for sewing, browsing the library, and cozying up to friends and knitting. But now is not that time. There are herbs to work!

Garden update, end of August

Posted on September 1, 2017


It's a good thing the August garden can take care of herself because I did very little this month. Mostly because there was minimal need for my interference. I planted my plants so close together that only the most persistent weeds stand a chance. These I pull up with ease after they grow tall enough to poke through the canopy. After a while one of my growing season goals becomes less about getting every weed out and more about reducing those weeds that are sending out seed heads to make next year a bit easier, so I don't sweat the small fry.

Weeds aside, the garden is (dare I say) blossoming. Each plant is growing with all her might, putting out flowers and packing on the growth. I had to rip out several square feet of toothache plant to prevent it from overrunning my calendulas and the little garden path. Don't be fooled though, there is plenty of toothache plant left.

My calendulas are producing. Most plants I leave to flower for the bees and to save my sanity, but not the calendulas. I pluck every flower and they go straight to my drying screen. When I miss a day, I let those flower heads go by so I can save the seeds. How I love calendulas.

I've been enjoying those plants that you don't harvest until the second year: valerian, clary sage, echinacea (first bloom soon!), and marshmallow. It's nice to see them growing and knowing that I'll get to play with them next year. I have several ashwagandha plants that should be in this category but they won't survive the winter, so I'll be harvesting their roots this year. This will leave me with several big spaces in the beds. Thank goodness! I mistakenly planted my rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano plants too close to some of the taller plants and they get very little sun. I'll relocate these next year to the empty spaces. This is what happens when you don't know much about the plants you're planting, and you think that blue vervain will stay small and shrubby.

I'm not sure what to do about the oats that are growing. They don't look like they'll produce heads any time soon. Although I know I have most of September before me, I'm not sure anything will come of that cluster of plants. And meanwhile they are disguising all kinds of tall grasses in there. Ah well. I'll just let them go and see what happens.

That bee balm from last month is thriving. Farmer Brittany suggested I cut the plants back to encourage root growth before the winter, so I did. The plants rewarded me with another round of blooms, which I turned into flower essence this week. August is a gift from the garden. I know it will all go by soon, and I'm planning my winterizing activities already, but it sure is good to enjoy it now.

Interlude

Posted on August 28, 2017


We went for an overnight trip to a friend's family lake house in New Hampshire this weekend. It was our first time away from home with the baby, and what a time! There were a dozen farmers there, including two who are starting their own commercial kitchen, which meant an abundance of beautiful food. And there was always someone interested in hanging with the two babies visiting. I'm not a confident water person, but this was just right. Seth went paddle boarding, kayaking, and water skiing while I tried the kayak and hung out on the beach. There was a bit of napping and music and lots of eating. It felt good.

The weekend made me wistful for how I grew up, visiting my extended family often for picnics and playtime, knowing there were adults and cousins around to watch me and for me to watch. Addie loved having so many friends to play with, to encourage her to walk or try to make her smile. Seth and I were able to relax because we knew that Addie was always in good hands. And no one felt burdened by being the sole baby carer because someone would always step in (eagerly!) to give the others a break. Addie, for her part, played and slept like a dream.

And let's not forget Lily. This happy dog had chipmunks to chase, Lake Winnisquam at her paws, and a crowd of people to beg for tidbits. What could be better? Four out of four paws from our happy canine.

What’s cookin’ good lookin’

Posted on August 21, 2017


August is providing such an abundance of vegetables, more than I remember. Is it my bad memory? Goodness, my memory is tired these days — like the rest of me! No, it's more likely that we've been consistent in picking up our CSA shares from the farms we frequent. Farmers are generous people and they certainly have been taking care of us. And now that we have a new and chubby, giggly, very compelling reason to sit down to dinner together, I find myself cooking more than in previous seasons.

There's tomato sauce bubbling. I haven't been using our old Damn Fine Sauce recipe. I just chop up several big tomatoes with onion, garlic, bell pepper, and basil, let it cook for a half hour, then pulverize with the stick blender and cook another half hour. It's less finicky so I have more time free to keep an eye on a crawling baby.

Also, there are eggplants, cooked whole in the oven for an hour in their skins, then peeled. These are nice and soft for a certain young miss.

I got up some roasted beets too, which made their way into a jar for fridge pickles, which the baby also loves. Seth is the canner in our family, but there's no time this season for him, or for me to dive in and learn. Maybe if I had become proficient at it before the baby it wouldn't feel so daunting. I know the woman behind Food in Jars has no trouble whipping up small batches in the evenings so it's not impossible to do. But I've only got so much brainpower per day (I'm tired!), and knitting is a higher priority. I'll probably regret it this winter. But I'll regret it from within my warm, cozy sweater, so it's hard to feel remorseful here.

One notable absence from our fridge this summer is green beans. As I predicted, we're not getting the quantities I prefer in our shares. And this coming from a woman with no room in her freezer for them. I didn't end up putting in any seeds this year for them, so I will have to make an effort to get local green beans this year. With all my excitement for beans, you'd think I have some sort of toothsome recipe up my sleeve, but it's not the case. We just cook them in oil, or steam them and eat them with salt. Let's not go overboard here.

August is for herbs

Posted on August 18, 2017

Every morning for the last week, I've woken up and thought to myself, how much will I be able to knit today? I hope it's a lot. But August has other plans of the green variety, I guess! Because when I look back at what I've done, there's been a lot more herb gathering than yarn squeezing.

The garden is giving me loads of spilanthes, aka toothache plant. I wasn't sure what to do with it at first, until I learned that it makes for a quick fix for teething babies. Let them chew on a bud for 30 seconds or so without swallowing. Presto! Numb gums with reduced pain afterwards. And let me tell you, that has saved my bacon multiple times this week.

I've got herbs hanging from the ceiling to dry for medicine at a later date: anise hyssop, goldenrod, motherwort, and holy basil. And there's a jar of blue vervain infusing in vinegar on my counter. I made another batch of flower essences too. I'm also pretty sure there's some calendula drying somewhere. I keep picking the blossoms anyway.

August is surely the herbal month. There is so much more to harvest from the garden before it goes for the season. And despite the heat, I can feel the season turning. It's in the cooler nights, the mornings we have to put a hoodie over the baby's onesie. The ripening corn and tomatoes (oh goodness, the tomatoes!). And yes, in the knitting too.

It’s in the cards

Posted on August 11, 2017

This is such a little craft that it feels almost too small to post. But I figured let's share it and bring some magic into your life as well as mine. This beautiful bit of wood is a card holder for my daily herbal oracle draw. Every day, I pick a card from the deck at random to meditate on, and use this holder to display the card.

The wood itself is a piece of cherry gifted to us from a friend with a lot of scraps from his wood shop. We were planning to use them to feed our wood stove, but some were big enough for small projects. Seth cut this one to my specifications, and I sealed and painted the ends gold, and then finished the whole thing with a beeswax-grapeseed oil mixture.

The cards are the Druid Plant Oracle, which I purchased a few years ago, and which I adore! They have some herb lore in their booklet, and it's fun to interact with my herbs in another way.

We have enough wood that I can make two dozen card displays or more. I was originally thinking of selling them. It's still not off the table, and now that I see how nice the finish looks I kind of want to dive in and make more. But I have yet to figure out how to use power tools safely without another person around to watch Addie. So this is the one holder I've got for now. For now. I can see them in oak, walnut, and maple too. Just beautiful. I love beautiful things.