The wonder of herbs, flowers, and all that other smelly stuff…

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The past few weeks I have been recovering from the stress of school, enjoying the holidays, and basically just vegging out. So, now that I have officially neglected all things great and small and had my share of relaxation over these wintry days, I am ready to start being active again.  This Christmas, I was fortunate to receive many amazing and useful gifts. My kitchen is now fully equipped; having received a new knife set, french press, and food processor, and my backpack now full of camping pillows, fire starters, needle and thread, and all that other great stuff. I also am really excited about two great books I got titled, “Making Stuff and Doing Things: A collection of DIY guides to doing just about everything”and “Make Your Place: affordable sustainable nesting skills.” These two books were both published by Microcosm Publishing, which, if you haven’t heard of it, you need to check out! These guys are a great, not-for-profit, collective company that publish some of the raddest books I have ever seen, and have a wide selection of zines as well. They have a lot of that “hippie shit,” but hey, I love that shit! They have a great selection of DIY books that are sure to please. Also, I recently found out that anyone can become a part of their “BFF” program and can buy a sliding scale (like all of the other products) subscription. The subscription is $60 to $180 (depending on what you can afford) for six months of everything they publish. The little blurp says “we typically release 8 books, 2-3 dvds, 4 zines, and 1 tshirt, and a dozen new stickers and patches” for each subscription period. Sounds pretty rad to me.

Now anyways…. these two books have inspired my next few projects. The first of which, from Make Your Place, is simple and complex at the same time. Put simply, I want to begin collecting herbs and plants. But more complexly, I want to begin using these things in place of many typical medicines. For example, one simple thing that I have made is Athlete’s Foot Cream. Its so easy all you need is: 1 c olive oil, a big handful of calendula petals, and 10 drops tea tree oil. Infuse the calendula petals in the oil for about 3 days, then add the tea tree oil and rub on infected area two or three times a day. The book also says that it is helpful for things like dandruff as well (just put in hair, wrap, leave in for the night and wash out in the morning. One of the great things about using these herbs and plants is that most have many different useful and healing properties. For example…

  • tea tree oil: good for treating fungus, but is also an antimicrobial and can be applied to cuts and skin irritation to prevent infections or bacteria from entering wounds. I have also read that it can help treat acne and can be used to eliminate head lice.
  • marshmallow: I am not talking about the corn syrup puff balls, but the root itself. Marshmallow can be used in salves as a painkiller, antiseptic, and soother and helps with eczema and dermatitis. It can also be made into a tea and helps with:  digestive issues such as diarrhea and ulcers, soar throat, and weight loss.
  • calendula: the same flower used in the athlete’s foot remedy is also great to treat burns and can be used in salves to help with eczema and dermatitis. I have also read that it can be used to treat insect bites and hemorrhoids. Calendula can also be used with a compress to help soothe sore muscles and cramps. This is another flower that can also be steeped to make a tea to help with stomach ulcers and UTIs.
  •  comfrey: comfrey is another all around healer, used to help with cuts, sprains, and even breaks. It can also be useful for burns, eczema, and even bruises. There have been some reports recently about the danger of prolonged use (negatively affecting the liver), but these are only speculations and many herbalists still swear by it.

There are also some great herbs for stomach issues (something I am all too familiar with) including: chamomile, slippery elm, red raspberry leaf, ginger. Also, many of these herbs help with PMS and menstrual issues: chamomile, ginger, and raspberry leaf, (and some other herbs) dandelion root, lemon balm, and cramp bark (which eliminates cramps! imagine that).  This information makes me want to have the biggest, smelliest, most useful herb garden so I can have the most diverse and fragrant medicine cabinet. But since I do not yet have that beautiful garden, the Kiva and Sundance both have enormous selections of herbs. I plan, in the near future, to put together some teas, salves, and tinctures. I’ll fill y’all in soon.

One warning about using natural remedies: some herbs can affect birth control! These most common are: St.Johns Wort (used for depression), Vitex (chasteberry), and excess soy.

My second, more playful, project was to make some good ol’fashunned hom’made root beer. In Making Stuff and Doing Things there is a section on Food and Drink that includes everything from: making soy milk and wine, to solar box cooking and seasoning caste iron skillets, to making root beer. The whole process is pretty simple, but there are so many recipes its hard to know where to start. I used sarsaparilla, sassafras, cherry bark, vanilla, and ginger root. Other variations I have seen include wintergreen, hops, juniper berry, dandelion, licorice root, anise, and burdock.  The two most important that can never be left out are the sassafras and the sarsaparilla, otherwise, feel free to use your imagination. Basically root beer making is: first steeping the herbs/barks/flowers in boiling water for about 20 minutes (for one gallon, I used about 1/4 c sarsaprilla, 1/3 c sassafras, 1/4 c cherry bark, 2T ginger root, and 2T vanilla (this is by no means an exact science), then after steeping, remove from heat and add sugar (I used about 1 1/2 c for the one gallon batch), then let cool to 80 degrees, once the root beer has cooled, pitch the yeast (I bought lager yeast, but some recipes I have seen call for bread/baking yeast, so I think either are fine, the taste just varies). Now, I put my root beer  in pint and quart mason jars with a little head room and left them out at room temperature until I could feel the pressure building inside (the top didnt pop any more), then straight into the fridge.  Many recipes advise that the beer does not sit out any longer than 6 to 12 hours because the pressure can cause the bottle to explode. Also, a brewer I spoke with said it may be a better idea to use plastic bottles. I did not use plastic, I just carefully watched mine and made sure to put it in the fridge (the yeast doesnt like the cold) before it got too bubbly. Next time I will bottle it in some 22’s though and hope the I don’t cause any major explosions!

Oh yeah! All this root beer making reminded me of how much I miss brewin’. So, Shane and I picked up a Red Ale kit and started it tonight. We are experimenting this time with doing a shorter primary fermentation. Hoping we get it all figured out so we can start makin up some of our own recipes!

Happy winter!

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About Megan French

I am a dreamer. I am a hopeful soul that thinks one day we could come together to support each other in a community; support one another's services, hard-work, products, and knowledge. I hope that one day we can be global and local thinkers; supporting each other economically through local interactions and supporting the world globally by respecting other cultures and learning from them. Through local thought and community relationships we can clean up our world environments, power figures, and idea about what is most important in our lives. It all begins with knowledge and understand about how to get back to the basics: cooking, sewing, foraging, preserving, scouting... DIY for life and for the future of our society.

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