October 11, 2017

Weeds that are Actually Medicine, Goldenrod

Starting in late September the fields in our area are covered in swaths of tall spires of golden yellow flowers waving in the breeze. It is a lovely sight. These flowers are Solidago, commonly known as Goldenrod,  a member of the Asteraceae family. Goldenrod has many positive attributes, not only is it pretty in masses in the fields, it is a favorite forage plant for bees in the autumn. The flowers are used to produce a warm yellow dye to color fabrics and yarn, but most importantly, the golden rod plant has medicinal properties.

Goldenrod has many medicinal uses. It is an antiseptic, astringent, it is anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, a carmative, ( reduces gastro-intestinal gas), and promotes sweating and urination for detoxification. It it reduces excess mucous and irritation caused by allergies, is helpful in treating urinary tract issues, can be used as a gargle for congestion in the larynx, and can be applied topically to wounds to promote healing.

It is easy to identify Goldenrod when in bloom, due to it's crown of golden flowers. The fields and hedgerows are thick with them from mid September through October. They can range in height from knee high to head high, depending on the age and location of the plant.  Goldenrod has a woody stem and thin, ovate leaves that are in opposing pairs along the stem.

A head of goldenrod flowers.

The stem is woody and the leaves are long, oval and arranged in
opposing pairs along them stem.
Goldenrod is often blamed for fall allergies, but it is not Goldenrod that is the culprit, it is Common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Ragweed really looks nothing like Goldenrod, it has unremarkable flowers of light yellow borne atop stems that have ferny deeply cut leaves. It produces volumes of air borne pollen that torment fall allergy sufferers, Unfortunately, it visually fades into the background, letting Goldenrod's tall spires of bright golden flowers take the blame for all the itchy, watery eyes and runny noses. In truth, Goldenrod has no air borne pollen at all, instead it has sticky resin-like pollen that clings to the feet and bodies of insects that visit its flowers. You literally can't inhale Goldenrod pollen. One of Goldenrod's medicinal uses is to alleviate the allergy symptoms caused by ragweed.

Deeply cut ferny leaves of Ragweed
Ragweed flowers
To harvest Goldenrod, cut the top 1/3 of the plant when the flowers are in full bloom, strip the large leaves off on the woody part of the stem. Leave the woody stem so that hanging the herbs to dry is easier, but if just using in tincture trim off the woody part and tincture only the flowers, small leaves and soft parts of the stem.

A closeup of the Goldenrod flowers
will help make sure identification is easy.

This is what Goldenrod looks like in situation.

 There are many ways to preserve Goldenrod. It can be made into a tincture or it may be infused in a crockpot with honey, strained and bottled for use with those who can't tolerate alcohol or for children. It can be made into lozenges by infusing in honey or heavy sugar syrup and boiling to"hard crack" on a candy thermometer and then pouring into molds. It can be dried and used as an infusion for tea or ground and made into capsules or used as an ingredient in a poultice. With all the different ways it can be used, it is good to preserve some as tincture and some in dried form to allow for flexibility in use as needs arise.

To prepare the Goldenrod for tincture, pick through and remove anything that was cut in the field that was not Goldenrod, grass, other plants, dead pieces of flotsome. Today Skittles decided to "help" with this part of the process...

Cut the Goldenrod into small pieces, removing the thick woody pieces, but leaving the soft stem and leaves.

I tincture my medicinal herbs in 190 proof grain alcohol that I have previously tinctured with organic lemon peel. Lemon peel is full of essential oils that are anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-viral... with that many "anti" properties lemon essential oil will boost the healing properties of the any herbs being tinctured.

Fill the container tightly, half way with plant matter and then fill to where the neck of the jar narrows with your alcohol of choice. I use 190 proof grain alcohol, but I live close to South Carolina where it is legal to sell 190 proof. Here in North Carolina the strongest you can get is 100 proof. You can use either grain alcohol or vodka of the highest proof you can purchase.

I then put a Ziploc type sandwich bag in the mouth of the jar and lightly press into the surface of the liquid. Once I am sure the plastic covers the surface of the liquid I slowly fill the bag with water to 3/4 from the top of the jar. Then I push out the remaining air and zip the bag closed, fold the top of the bag into the 3/4 in head space and cover tightly with a lid. I do this step to make sure that all the plant mater is well below the alcohol, to prevent molding.  Invert the bottle of tincture every day for the first week and then once or twice a week for another 5 weeks. After the six weeks has passed, strain the tincture through cheesecloth, squeeze out all the liquid, bottle and tightly cap then label with the date it was poured off and store.

The herb can be dried for use later or for making teas and poultices by tying 2 or 3 stems together and hanging in an area with good air circulation that is protected from the weather.  I hang mine from the rafters of the vaulted ceiling in my sitting room, but I also have a Stack!t air drying gadget that works for small quantities. It hangs outside under the cover of our veranda to catch the breeze.

I have lots of room in the rafters of our sitting room to hang herbs to dry.

The stack!t works great indoors or outside,
 but I prefer to hang it in the breeze if it is nice outside.

The Stack!t is great for drying small quantities of herbs and
since it has sections, it is easy to dry more
than one kind of herb at a time.
The dried plant material can be roughly ground up and infused into tea or finely ground and loaded into capsules, (I use 00 capsules and a Capsule Machine, both can be purchased at www.mountainroseherbs.com). Dried plant material should be stored in a cool place, in a tightly capped jar stored out of the light.  Goldenrod tincture should be stored at full strength in tightly capped amber bottles and kept in a cool, dark place. Tinctures of 100% alcohol or 100% honey infused with herbs will keep indefinitely. Once diluted the tincture's clock begins ticking... it will store for several years, but will eventually lose it's potency).

For use as a tincture or honey infusion, dilute 1:5 with water and take 1/2 -1 tsp. 3 times a day, (it will go down better with a little honey).  If making a tea, infuse 3 tsp. in an 8 oz. cup of hot water and allow to steep 15-20 minutes, then strain and drink with a little honey. This also should be consumed 3 times daily.

So now is the time to go out and harvest some goldenrod while it is in full bloom and get some tincture and dried herb ready at hand. It is best to harvest Goldenrod deep in a field or along a woods edge away from traffic exhaust fumes and road run off. If you have a park nearby that is a good place to harvest away from traffic and spraying. If you can't get it anywhere else look for low traffic country roads and get back at least 50 feet off the road to harvest. Be sure to wear long pants and boots and watch for snakes and fire ant hills. Of course, you should never go on fenced private land without asking permission, so if you find a prime crop of Goldenrod behind a fence, tempting as it may be, leave it if you can't find the owner to ask permission.

 I have posted a step by step tutorial on how to make a tincture on another blog post. Here is the link: https://aprepperspantryjournal.blogspot.com/2016/11/its-tincture-time-again.html

                                                                                                        Happy Wildcrafting!

As always the disclaimer that I hate but must attach to protect myself  from the Pharma Police... The above information is for educational purposes and is not intended to treat or diagnose illness. It is the responsibility of the individual to research and educate themselves before making health choices for themselves and their families.

July 29, 2017

Weeds that are Actually Medicine, Elderberries Part One

This is the time of year when the lyrics "Feelin fine on elderberry wine", from Elton John's song "Elderberry Wine", come to mind... It is elderberry season! I saw that the berries were ripe as I drove out to do errands the other day and a friend and I spent some lovely time this morning foraging for those ripe blacky purple berries.  This was no spur of the moment thing though; I made mental note in early May of where the best flower clusters were and have been checking back periodically to take photos for this post and to see how they are doing. Elderberries in our area usually ripen around the 1st of August. The harvest will go on for a few weeks, the top clusters ripening first and the rest of the bush ripening a little later on. The top berries are always the most beautiful berries, plump and juicy since they receive the best sun exposure. I call these "bird berries", since at 10 feet up there is no way I can reach them, so these berries are for the birds and for the continuation of the species... 

Elderberry wine, might make you feel fine, but if you really want to feel fine, use elderberries for their immune boosting and healing capabilities. Beyond the fact that elderberries are a great antioxidant, and very high in vitamin C, elderberries can help you stay healthy during cold and flu season and if you are unfortunate enough to get a cold or the flu taking elderberry can reduce the length of a cold or the flu by an average of 4 days. They can ease allergy symptoms and reduce the inflammation of a sinus infection. Elderberry can lower blood sugar levels and has been proven to be an anti-carcinogenic, so they can help to prevent cancer.  Elderberries taste good so getting a children to take it is a breeze!

I love to forage, I always feel so close to God when I am out in nature gathering food and medicine from the wild. It is provision for sustenance and healing that comes straight from creation! When foraging for elderberries, as with any plant taken from the wild,  it is important to be able to make a correct identification and to harvest responsibly.  I am careful to leave more than I harvest when foraging for anything in the wild, so that there is plenty of seed to fall to the ground to grow new plants and to keep the birds well fed. But more importantly I make sure that I am well educated on the identifying characteristics of the plants I forage. As with many edible or medicinal plants in the wild, elderberry has some unfriendly "look-a likes", so it is important to know what you are picking.

 There are actually several plants that resemble elderberry, particularly when in bloom. Commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace, the wild carrot has umbrella shaped flower clusters similar to elderberry, but then so does water hemlock, the most poisonous plant found growing wild in North America. And then there is Hercules Club, also sometimes called the toothache tree, which has blooms and berries that are very similar to elderberry. It was used to treat tooth-aches by Native Americans, but is generally considered toxic. I tell you all this not to scare you off from foraging, but to show you how to forage with safety and confidence. 

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra,  is native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It is a woody shrub that can reach 10-12 feet in height. The trunk and branches are covered in bark, the leaves are pinnate, (have leaflets arranged on either side of the stem, usually opposite each other),  the leaves are serrated, with the veins running to the tips of the serrations or fading away before reaching the serrations.  There are umbrella- like clusters of cream to white, 5 petaled flowers in late spring.  It bears deep purple to black berries in late July to early September, depending on what temperature zone it is growing in.  The berries have medicinal properties as well as being useful for making wines, syrups, and  jellies. The juice of the berries is edible, but it is prudent to strain out the seeds as they are not edible and in quantity can be toxic, (much like apples, eat the fruit but not the seeds). 

 Elderberry flowers are a light cream to white in color with 5 petals and stamens that are arranged between petals. They appear on the scene in late Spring. They have a delicate scent and are useful in making teas, syrups and cordials. I prefer to pass on picking the flowers so that there will be lots of berries for use in making tonics and cough syrup later in the season. They are medicinal and can be used in tea or syrup form to treat sinus and allergy issues.

In late may the flowers have set fruit and the berries are getting bigger.
Berries are ripe and ready for picking a little early this year in the Piedmont of NC,
 start checking for ripe berries in late July, just to be safe, but most years they are ripe
in early August.

Elderberry leaves have fine veins that meander across the leaf fading away or
in some cases terminating at the tips.

Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota, is a native of Europe and Southeast  Asia, but has been naturalized in North America. It is a member of the carrot family and when young and tender is edible, but in my opinion not worth the trouble to forage and prepare, and due to its similarity to the fatally poisonous water hemlock, unless you are a seasoned forager, I recommend you skip foraging wild carrot. The plants stand in meadows and waste places and along the edges of plowed fields. It has umbrella shaped clusters of white flowers with a tiny burgundy "heart" set in the middle of the cluster. The plant has ferny leaves and stands up to 3 feet tall. 

Although the flowers of Queen Anne's Lace are similar to elderberry flowers, only in the deep south will they ever be blooming at the same time as elderberry. The height of the plant and it's ferny leaves are a dead give away that they are not elder flowers. Even if you mistook them for elder flowers, you are safe, since they aren't toxic.

Water Hemlock,  Cicuta douglasii, the most poisonous plant in the North America, has flowers alarmingly similar to elderberry and Queen Anne's lace. Where it would not hurt you to mistake Queen Anne's Lace for elderberry, water hemlock would most likely prove fatal if you made a tea or syrup from its flowers. Water Hemlock blooms at the same time as elderberry and the flowers are similar. Fortunately, there are some details that will help you not to make a fatal mistake. Hemlock does not produce berries, so there is less likelihood of mistaking hemlock for elderberry if you wait for berries to be evident. Water hemlock has an herbaceous stem, hollow, smooth and green, sometimes with pale burgundy spots  or stripes on the stems. Elderberry trunk and branches are covered with silvery grey bark so if it has a woody bark it is not water hemlock. Although elderberry can be found in wet areas, it is far more likely to be water hemlock if you find it growing in marshes or in a water course. Checking the stem is a good way to tell them apart.  Like elderberry, hemlock had pinnate, serrated leaves, but where elderberry leaves have fine veins that terminate at the tips, hemlock has pronounced veins that go across the leaves and terminate in the notches of the serrated leaf edge. Hemlock flowers are in loosely formed clusters of tiny white flowers that do not set fruit.

Hemlock leaves have deep veins that run straight to the notches, not to the tips of the serrated leaves.

Hemlock has loosely formed clusters of tiny white flowers with fuzzy yellowish green centers.

Hercules Club, Zanothoxylum clava- hurculis,  is grows in the deep south and in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina. The leaves like elderberry are pinnate, but unlike elderberries the  leathery leaves are smooth, not serrated and are held on branches that can be 3 feet in length. The clusters of flowers are large and creamy yellow, the berries look similar to elderberries, but are larger and the flower/fruit clusters are born high and above the leaves. The most defining feature of the Hercules Club is the trunk. Like the elderberry, the trunk and branches of  Hercules Club are covered in bark,  but they are also  covered with thorns.


Sometimes it is helpful to me to see things side by side so I can compare and contrast their characteristics. So here is a side by side photo for comparison.
This is a side by side comparison of the flowers of all four plants, the top two are  non poisonous, the bottom two range from toxic to deadly.
Oh, and there is one other area that there might be confusion...

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, is common throughout the United States. It grows to 8 feet with smooth purplish stems growing from a central crown. The leaves are long and grow alternately along the stems .Pokeweed's berries look similar to elderberry in color but are larger and are not in loose hanging clusters like elderberries, but hang on elongated clusters called racemes.  Poke weed is toxic so do not eat leaf , berry, stem or root. It is said that the young leaves are edible if boiled in three changes of water before trying to eat them. But in my opinion, if I have to boil something in three changes of water before it is safe to eat, it isn't edible... just sayin's all...

Poke berries are great for drawing birds but although they look tasty, they are very toxic
even when they are green. 
So now that you know what to look for and what not to pick, why don't you cast about and see if you can find some clusters of elderberries in your area? In my next post on this subject I will give you a recipe for a simple elderberry syrup to use as an immune booster  in the colder months ahead.  Happy foraging!

Oh and just so everyone knows... this post is for educational purposes and is not meant to be used to treat or diagnose illness.  Your judgement and personal research are the best tools you have when foraging. In other words, don't just take my word for it...  :) Go outside and explore, there is a lot to discover in this big ol' world!

May 17, 2017

Wash Day, Part One

A little hummer helps me with the laundry.
Some of my favorite memories are connected to Wash Day... as a military brat we lived in base housing for a short time in New Jersey. There was a huge courtyard surrounded by four apartment buildings. Most days the courtyard was a gathering place for moms and a playground for kids, but on Wash Day the courtyard was transformed into a sea of multicolored laundry flapping in the breeze. There were no bikes allowed on wash day and the kids were supposed to find other places to occupy their time, but of course, the best place in the world for a tea party is under a canopy of freshly washed sheets! In the Zona Maya, Yucatan I hung laundry in the sultry heat with a friend as we caught up on news, on a breezy hilltop between Waxhaw and Monroe, I hung laundry with my dearest  friend, silently shaking and pinning, careful not to break the enchantment of  birdsong, breeze, sun and wet clothes... then there was learning to do laundry in the rain forest of Costa Rica where Wash Day is an all day occupation. There clothes are hung under cover, not out in the sun, since it rains even when the sun is shining. A strong breeze blew on our mountain all day long, but there was so much moisture in the air that getting clothes dry is a real challenge. So I would spend all day going down the line of clothes, testing for "dry enough"to take off the line, then immediately fold it and put it in a snap top tote to keep it dry.

These days Wash Day is at our house in Waxhaw, where I am hanging laundry off the back deck on a line that stretches from the back corner of the house to a spot way up in a tree out in our woods. It is not as exotic as Wash Day in foreign lands or as dreamlike as hanging clothes with my bestie, but it has it's own kind of magic. The birds sing and the trees whisper to me as the breeze ruffles their leaves. An anole male scurries along the railing, pausing to show off his bubble gum pink dewlap before he reaches the rose trellis, where he can watch me without worrying about Skittles, our cat. Yep, I love Wash Day...

As a prepper it is important to understand how difficult washing clothes can be without modern conveniences. You will need to have thought it through and made plans before you get caught with a load of soaking wet clothes in the washer and no way to get it dry... Having lived in places where the wash was done in the river, beating clothes clean on the rocks, wringing out the water by hand and spreading clothes on bushes and other vegetation to dry, or in a place where there is so much moisture in the air that clothes always smell musty, no matter how hard you try to get them dry,  I have learned a thing or two about doing the wash in rustic conditions.
In Costa Rica, "The Bodega" as we called it served many purposes. It was our laundry area, potting shed and outdoor eating area when it was raining.
Doing laundry by hand is hard work. Often it will take all day just to get one load of clothes done to dry and folded. Secondly, there are some clothes that are just too much trouble to launder, like blue jeans... you can work yourself to death trying to get a pair of jeans washed and dried. When we moved to Costa Rica we brought jeans with us thinking working in the jungle it would be safer and they would be more durable. It wasn't long before we regretted that decision. We remedied the jeans problem by requesting a shopping trip for people coming down to visit us... Choosing clothing for a grid down scenario is counterintuitive, one would think tough and durable, when actually clothing should be lightweight, breathable and quick drying. Cotton is a no-no, it takes forever to dry and in inclimate weather can actually be dangerous, since it gets cold and stays cold, sapping your body heat and paving the way hypothermia or illness. It is also heavy when wet and will chafe and get musty leading to skin irritation and fungus. If it is cold, choose silk long johns and wear multiple layers, but stay away from heavy fabrics. The first time you have to try and wash and dry a pair of blue jeans by hand will cure you from choosing heavy clothes; your knuckles will be raw, the jeans won't be clean and they will take two days to dry if wrung out by hand. You may end up wearing them wet and dirty; believe me it is miserable to do heavy labor or a lot of walking in wet, smelly, dirty pants.

Then there is the problem of getting clothes clean at all. In Costa Rica, it took me awhile to successfully get the clothes clean and dry in the same day. In the meantime we were having to wear damp, mostly dirty clothes... I felt like a homemaking failure, but before long I learned from my mistakes and we were cleaner and drier. A grid down situation may require it to be somebody's full time job at least one day a week, to keep the clothes clean. It could actually take two people for some parts of the tasks, like wringing out a pair of pants to get enough water out that they will dry in one day. It will be frustrating and time consuming, a task that nobody really wants to own, but if someone doesn't know how to do laundry "the hard way", everyone will be sorry. I would suggest that you start practicing now so that it isn't a total shock if it becomes a necessity. Much like any other aspect of "rustic" living, figuring it out before hand will reduce stress and save time, energy and drama later.

When water, time and other resources are thin in the ground, everyone will have to resign themselves to wear the same clothes for as long as possible. While in Costa Rica we had work clothes that we wore long past the time they failed the sniff test, (for these clothes it was time to wash them when they were so dirty they stood alone...). We would just come off the farm and hang these clothes under cover next to the knee high rubber boots, to air out in the breeze.The next morning we just shook them out and put them back on before going back out on the farm. Our "around the house" clothes we changed into after washing up. These clothes stayed cleaner since they weren't worked in and were washed when they failed the sniff test. We usually changed under things daily and wore everything else for a week before washing.

Here are some things I have learned about washing clothes without the aid of modern conveniences:

Put the soiled clothes on to soak the night before Wash Day, this will give the fibers a chance to release the soil and will save a lot effort when scrubbing. Soap can actually do more harm to laundry than good. Soap is used as a surfactant, to help soil release from the clothing, but can also, if not rinsed very well, irritate the skin and cause the clothes to get dirty faster. I shave a very small amount of Fels Naptha soap bar into a cup of water and let it melt then I pretreat really soiled areas. When I put the clothes onto soak I swish the treated clothes around in the water first and that will put enough soap in the water to help float out the oils and dirt but not add so much soap that it won't rinse clear.

Since water conservation may be an imperative, rinsing clothes may be a luxury you can't afford, so you may have to forego soap altogether. In this case, soaking and scrubbing is the best thing you can do to make sure your clothes get clean. It is possible to make lye soap, but soap making is tricky even with a lye calculator, and making lye from wood ashes is risky business and will not give you a consistent result. If you are thinking about making lye soap, you should practice your soap making skill now, there is a lot to learn.

 Skip the handy dandy plunger washer thingamabob... they don't work very well or last very long. Instead find a real live washboard. It will save your knuckles and you will have some chance of getting your clothes clean. Check out the Lehmans catalog, and if money allows invest in a good wash board and a hand clothes wringer. Purchase good heavy peg pins and and some spring pins, but the spring pins are really a luxury since they break so easily. Peg pins will last a lifetime. Lay in a supply of clothes line. It stretches and get soiled over time. If you can find the galvanized wash tubs they are worth their weight in gold on Wash Day and can work the rest of the week doing other chores.

If you can afford to waste water on rinsing the clothes, then adding 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water will help to soften clothes that will be line dried. If the smell of freshly line dried clothes isn't enough for you and you want to scent your clothes, spray them lightly just before they dry with a few drops of your favorite essential oil in a small bottle of water. I pick lavender and other herbs from my garden and layer them with my clothes in the drawers and linen closet. It will impart a lovely scent and help deter cloth eating critters.

To get your whites white, soak whites in boiling water, then wash with just the tiniest amount of soap, (or none at all). When it is time to dry them, spread them out on the grass or bushes. The chlorophyll in the plants will interact with the sun naturally whitening your whites. It is really pretty amazing how white this will get your whites!

Part Two of this Wash Day post will cover drying clothes. There are several things that can be done to make line dried clothes your favorite way to dry clothes. Line drying will save costs on electricity, be healthier and make your clothing last longer. So until next time, enjoy a day outside and try your hand at doing laundry by hand!

January 28, 2017

Preparedness Foods, Thinking Outside the Box

Prepping has so many facets and seriously, there are so many things to consider... It can really be overwhelming trying to think it all through and plan for what may happen. Food preps are particularly a challenge, since it takes time to build up a supply of food, so I have made it a habit to think about both normal shelf stocking and prepping for long term when when I do my shopping plan for the week. Today as I was making out my grocery list, I also made a list of items for the three month pantry and any Long Term Storage, (called LTS from now on), supplies that I needed to purchase. I do this every week. For us prepping isn't a buy it, store it, forget it, kind of deal. We plan, acquire, store and use all of our preps on a rotating basis. Eating the foods we store and rotating our supplies regularly is part of our overall preparation plan.

One thing that I learned early on in the area of food preps is that most of the prepared, "Ready to Eat" storage foods, freeze dried or dehydrated, that are on the market really aren't very good for you.  Fat, salt and sugar are often predominant ingredients, followed by starch ....  I couldn't in good conscience store foods that were high in calories, but had very little nutrition to go along with the calories. So in order to find storable foods that meet the nutritional needs of my family, I have had to look outside the box.I needed to find foods that were nutritional powerhouses, but were also flexible, easy to prepare and portable. In many cases I have found those foods in ethnic food markets. The area where we live has many ethnic grocers, Indian, Greek, Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern as well as Eastern European, Ethiopian and Nepali foods are available for some prepping perusal. On this particular shopping trip I was going to an Asian supermarket that has foods from many Asian cultures under one roof. So I thought it would be fun to show you what I got while shopping and talk about what they are good for and how to use them!

I'll start with one of my favorites... seaweed. I know that not everyone is familiar with how to use seaweed beyond being a wrapper for sushi, but seaweed is invaluable item in a Prepper's pantry. For starters, seaweed is a virtual treasure trove of essential vitamins and minerals. Particularly, it is full of iodine and has an ample supply of sodium that can provide the body's daily requirement for both, which can save your life if you can't meet your daily sodium needs because you can get salt, (not to mention if you are on the move adding enough salt to your supplies to meet your family's daily salt requirement can be kind of heavy...) It is also easy to prepare and is lightweight, so it is a perfect for the BOB. I use it frequently in our meal preparations, in soups, in fermentation, in stir fry and more. It goes camping with us, travels when we do and is in both our 3 month and LTS  supplies.

Next, on my grocery list was Tree Ears. This tree fungus is high in protein, iron and vitamin B2, all of which are necessary for staying on your feet in high stress situations. Like seaweed it is light and easy to prepare and they have a nice chewy texture. Since it has very little flavor of its own tree ears can be added to practically dish to boost the nutritive value. They are good in omelets, stir fry, soups, salads and more. They have a long shelf life and can easily be stored long term.

I often purchase dried mushrooms, I love the smoky, rich flavor of the dried shitaki. I use them as part of a mushroom stock I make and freeze or can for future use. It is always helpful to have a few soup bases on the shelf for quick meals when I am busy! For long term storage, dried mushrooms are great. They will last as very long time if put in a dry, oxygen free environment. Mushrooms are a good source of protein, are high in niacin, potassium, copper, phosphorous and difficult to acquire, selenium. The mineral selenium is not present in fruits and vegetables, but can be found in mushrooms. It is important for cognitive function, a healthy immune system,  prevents inflammation, plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps to detox some cancer causing agents and reduces tumor growth, and is necessary for both male and female fertility. Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D as well. Due to the fibrous makeup of mushrooms, they must be cooked in order to release the nutrients trapped inside. Since the dehydrated mushrooms I buy are vacuum sealed, I don't remove the packaging when I put them in LTS. I just pack several complimentary items, like seaweed, pho noodles, dehydrated veggies and seasonings together in a 2 gallon bucket, put a large oxygen absorber in and knock the lid on.

Speaking of Pho noodles... Fat Pad Thai type rice noodles, Pho noodles, thin noodles made of mung bean, spring roll wrappers, these are standard items in our vegan pantry, but also play an important role in the Prepping pantry. These kind of noodles do not have to be cooked, just soak in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes and they are ready to be used. In an emergency situation when fuel for cooking might be limited, or time to cobble a meal together is thin on the ground, these items could save the day. And for those avoiding wheat, they are gluten free.

Millet is not just for the birds! This tiny seed is jam packed with nutrition, protein and dietary fiber. It is a good source of magnesium, a macromineral that the human body needs in large amounts, (Only 25% of the population actually gets the MDR of magnesium), as well as calcium and B vitamins, particularly Niacin, (B3). It is best to purchase the unhulled, organic variety, and to soak all seeds and grains, not just millet, before consuming them to make them easier to digest. Most digestive issues with grains spring from the digestive inhibitors found in the seed coat of the grains, soaking or fermenting the grains before use will make them much more digestible. Millet can be added to bread, cooked as a hot cereal, or made into a casserole mixed with other grains and vegetables. It is a quick cooking, versatile, gluten free grain, worth considering for day to day use and long term storage.

I also picked up fresh goodies, some that I will use for making meals, some that will be going into the dehydrator for preservation. Mushrooms dehydrate very well so I routinely snag a variety of the organic mushrooms at my favorite Asian market and pop them in the dehydrator to dry for use down the road.

I hope that sharing some of my outside of the box food preps will inspire you to consider what kind of storage foods might be sitting on the shelves of  your local ethnic grocer and maybe add some nutritional and culinary diversity to your Prepping pantry! Until next time!

Please feel free to post a comment or ask a question. I would love to hear from you!

November 5, 2016

Ghee, The Shelf Stable Way to Store Butter

When building an emergency pantry stock there are a few important considerations to make. Nutrition is paramount, choosing nutritionally dense foods that are easy to assimilate should be the first order of business. Next is a shelf stable source of protein. Then foods that have roughage, staying power and good calories, (as opposed to empty calories). Sweeteners are pretty easy, sugar, honey, maple syrup, (must be refrigerated after opening, but is stable while unopened), and molasses, are shelf stable and provide quick energy. Oil is important to the body for the taking up of fat soluble vitamins. Without some source of fat in the diet, the body can not assimilate, vitamins A, D, E, or K, which are essential substances needed for normal function, growth and maintenance of body tissuesBut it is hard to find a really healthy shelf stable source of oil.

Shelf stable oils are few and far between. Vegetable shortening is stable and it has a use in seasoning cast iron, but should have no place in the human diet. It is a dangerous, processed transfat made from GMO soybeans... Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil is a good choice for health and nutrition, but has a short shelf life. You can extend the shelf life by freezing it but it still won't last years. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, is a really good choice. It has a shelf life of 2-5 years, but in the right storage environment can last indefinitely. It is my oil of choice since I am vegan and use no animal products. It also has health and medicinal properties, so I am going to put a gold star by Organic Extra Virgin coconut oil and say it is the best choice for health and stability, has a high flash point so it is good for stir frying, but also works great in baking. And then there is Butter... butter freezes well, but has a relatively short storage life even frozen. If you want to store butter, you can buy it canned at outrageously expensive prices, or you can buy butter buds, which have been highly processed, (I am suspicious of the health risks of any foods I don't process myself). Butter buds never really taste or work like real butter, (kind of like powdered eggs...), but it is an option. But if you are looking for a way to keep butter for long term storage, while holding on to the spreadability and taste of butter, then making ghee, (clairfied butter), is your answer.

Ghee is butter that has had all the milk solids removed from it. It has a high flash point, so it can be used in the skillet, in baking or can be spread on a piece of toast. It actually tastes more buttery than butter, so it is possible to use less and still get loads of flavor. In India, ghee is used in place of regular butter because it stands up to the tropical heat better without spoiling, it also imparts a lovely rich buttery taste to the foods it is used in. *A little side note... if you want spreadable ghee in warm weather keep it in the fridge, since it becomes a liquid in hot conditions and a solid when cold.

Making ghee is quite simple. You only need butter, (unsalted for baking and cooking, salted if you want to spread it on toast), and a few simple kitchen tools.

Equipment Needed for Making Ghee:

A heavy bottomed sauce pan, (size will depend on how much butter you are making into Ghee. You don't want the butter spattering or boiling over, so butter should only fill about half the cooking vessel.)
Wire mesh strainer
Good quality cheese cloth cheese cloth that is more like fabric and less like gauze)
A heat resistant bowl
Water bath canner
4 oz. straight sided jelly jars for small family, pint sized wide mouth jars for larger family, matching lids and bands

Since this is a process I only want to do occasionally, I usually try to do enough butter to make it worth my time. I will do 6 or 8 pounds of butter at a time. You can do more or less as you see fit.

The Process 

Over low heat, put butter in pan of choice, melt the butter until it is simmering.

Do not at any point stir... in order to distribute heat, gently rock the pan. It will be cloudy at first, then the milk solids will begin to separate from the fat. At first the milk solids will float to the top and look kind of lacy. 

Then some of it will sink to the bottom and the rest will remain as foam on the surface. At this point you need to watch it very carefully. You want to watch for a color change in the milk solids on the bottom from white to light yellow. If you get it right, the ghee will have an intense buttery flavor and smell and actually tastes more buttery than regular butter so you don't need to use as much to get the butter flavor. If the milk solids go from light gold to dark gold or brown, you will lose the intense buttery flavor and just have oil. It is still a shelf stable oil that has a high flash point and is good for many kinds of cooking, everything from baking to stir frying, but it will lack the wonderful buttery flavor if you let it go too far. When you see it turn from white to light yellow, remove from heat. Use a spoon to remove the milk solids that are floating, and then pour into a cheese cloth lined strainer that is sitting in a heat resistant bowl. Discard the milk solids. 

This video gives you an idea of the different stages you will see in the butter and will give you a good idea when it is ready to pour off. It doesn't however show me pouring the butter in the strainer... I couldn't video the process and pour at the same time!

Pour the ghee into jars leaving 1/2 inch heads space. Clean the rim of the jar well with a cloth with a little soap on it to eliminate any oil on the rim that might keep the lids from sealing. then use your two part lids and water bath process for 10 minutes. I have a control group of canned goods that I use for testing shelf life, I open one of each kind of canned goods every 2 years to check to see if it is still good. I have some ghee that is 10 years old, it is still as fresh and buttery tasting as it was the day I canned it. Ghee does not need to be refrigerated if used within a week or so of opening, which is why I put it in small containers, so it will get used up before it goes south. (You will know it has gone bad if you see mold starting to grow on the surface).

This is an easy project that doesn't take a lot of prep time and will provide you with a great shelf stable fat for your emergency pantry. Why don't you give it a try and let me know how it goes?

November 1, 2016

It's Tincture Time Again!

Winter is just around the corner and soon it will be cold and flu season. So every year in the fall I make the medicines that I will use to keep my family well during the winter. For the next 6 weeks my kitchen counter will be host to a collection of jars holding herbs that I am tincturing for use as medicine. There are several herbal tinctures that I rely on during the cold months. The first being Olive leaf, which is good for everything from curing the common cold to killing e-coli. It is an antiviral and a natural antibiotic and our go-to tincture to protect against the junk that passes through the population in the winter. Since I have asthma, I keep Yerba Santa on hand to keep my airways open, it works as well as the prescription drug Albuterol, without all the side affects. But for those who don't have asthma, it is good for keeping airways clear when you have a chest cold. Echinacea is an immune system booster that we use if we are succumbing to illness, I often mix it with other tinctures to increase the spectrum of protection from illness. Echinacea is better used at the onset of illness, rather than as a preventative. I make many herbal preparations, to keep my family well and to treat illness if we get sick, but these three are the primaries for winter. We also use the Fire on the Mountain Tonic , to make sure that we have a strong immune system and healthy gut so that we don't get sick in the first place. In the near future I will do a post on each of these herbs, giving a better explanation of their healing properties, when to use them and dosages. But If you want the tinctures for winter now is the time to start them is now since they take 6 weeks to tincture.

To make your own medicinal herbal tinctures you will need the best quality herbs you can obtain. I order most of mine from Mountain Rose Herbs or The Bulk Herb Store. Both have high quality herbs, lots of information, and tutorials. You will also need at least 90 proof clear alcohol, like vodka. I use 190 proof grain alcohol for the extraction process and then add water to dilute when I am ready to bottle the tincture.

 **As a side note, In some states sale of 190 proof grain alcohol is illegal. Here in North Carolina it is was made illegal a few years ago, so now I drive to South Carolina, (I am very near the border so it is no biggie for me). 90 proof vodka will do the job, if you can't obtain 190 proof grain alcohol.**

***WARNING! Grain alcohol and Isoprophyl alcohol are not the same!!! Grain alcohol is an alcoholic beverage and is purchased where you find other alcoholic beverages, Isoprophyl alcohol or wood alcohol, is a disinfectant and is poisonous. Drinking Isoprophyl alcohol can lead to blindness and possible death.***  

There are a few kitchen items that you will also need: a wide mouth pint canning jar, a two piece lid and band or a plastic screw top lid that fits a wide mouth jar, a plastic funnel, a bamboo chop stick or skewer and a pen, some adhesive backed labels and transparent tape.

Fill the jar 1/2 way with the herb of choice. If it is a light weight, fluffy herb, then press down slightly and fill again to the halfway mark. Do not pack tightly, since the herbs will soak up the moisture and swell in time.

 Pour the 190 proof grain alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to where the screw threads on the jar begin, about 3/4 inch from the rim of the jar. You may need to top off the alcohol during the first day or so, as air bubbles dissipate and the herbs soak up the alcohol. It is necessary to keep the plant material covered with alcohol or it could spoil. Stir with the bamboo stick to dislodge air bubbles and uniformly wet the herbs, taking care to break up any clumps of herbs. Top off if the level of alcohol drops below the screw threads.

Write out on a label the name of the herb, the day you started it and the day the tincture will be ready,(the ready date is 6 weeks after the start date). Also note what kind of solvent was used for the tincture. Vodka is only 90 proof and has already been diluted, grain alcohol is 190 proof and will need to be diluted before use, so noting what alcohol you used will help you avoid dilution mishaps later.

Screw the lid on tightly, invert once or twice and then wipe the jar with a clean, dry towel. Apply the label and then cover the label with tape if desired. The tape will prevent ink from running if the jar gets wet during the tincture process. I have found that the two piece lids are water tight, but the plastic lids can sometimes leak around the edges, so I just cover the label to be safe. It is very frustrating to have ink run and the identity of a tincture be in question. If you are doing more than one kind of tincture at a time it might be difficult to tell one from the other if the labels are ruined.

Finally place the jars out of direct sunlight and invert the jars daily to move the herbs around in the alcohol. It is a good idea to put them somewhere that they will be seen, to remind you that they need daily attention . The jars should be inverted at least once a day everyday for a week, at this point they can be put in a  cabinet out of the light and out the way, but need to be inverted several times a week for the remaining 5 weeks.

When the 6 weeks are up and your jar of herbs and grain alcohol are deep green, it is time to start phase two of this project.

Equipment you will need for decanting your tinctures:

Finished tinctures
Glass bowl 
Measuring cup or container with pouring spout
Small measuring glass like a shot glass with liquid measure marks on it, (Walmart)
Cheese cloth
One 2 oz. amber bottles with dropper lid per tincture being made. (Mountain Rose Herbs sells them for $1.50 ea. or you can use a recycled  dark glass bottle like a vanilla bottle, but you will want some sort of dropper for dispensing the tincture).
Small glass funnel that will fit in bottle or a squeeze bottle with nozzle, (Michael's may have them in the cake decorating section, I also found a set of 6 at Sam's for about $4)
Sticky backed labels or paper labels and clear packing tape

Put the strainer in a medium sized bowl and line with cheese cloth. Pour the contents of the tincture jar into the strainer.

Gather up the edges of the cheese cloth, hold them together, with the other hand twist the cheesecloth holding the herbs until contents are tightly drawn up. Squeeze the cheese cloth "bag" to remove any remaining tincture, until it stops dripping tincture. Some herbs are soft and this will be easy to do, other herbs are woody and squeezing the bag will not produce much liquid, if the herbs are woody, just give it a squeeze for good measure and move on to next step. Dispose of the plant material, there is nothing of value left in in it at this point.

For a 2 ounce bottle, pour 1 ounce of tincture in a small liquid ounce measuring glass pour it into your small measuring cup. 

Then fill the measuring glass with one ounce of purified or distilled water and add to tincture in the measuring cup. This makes a working solution. Stir to mix.

Place small funnel in the 2 oz. bottle and fill the bottle. If you measured carefully, there should still be room for the dropper to fit in the bottle without overflowing. If you want to make sure not to force tincture out when initially fitting the dropper in the bottle, stick the tip of the dropper in the bottle and draw up some of the liquid into the dropper, then let the dropper down into the bottle and screw the top on firmly.

At this point you should label your dropper bottle with the contents and the fact that it is a dilution or "working solution", as well as the dosage to be taken and any warnings that need to be read before using. The rest of the tincture should be kept in the concentrated form, in a jar with a close fitting lid. If possible, store in a dark glass jar, but if that is not available then use a canning jar or other glass jar, label well with the contents and dilution instructions and store in a cool dark place. The tincture concentrate will last a long time (years), if stored properly. The diluted tincture will last a year or longer. I label my bottles and then cover the label completely with clear packing tape, so that any dribbles will not run the info on the label. I reuse my bottle over and over, I just wash them thoroughly and remove the label before reusing.

I hope that you will give making your own herbal tinctures a try. It is simple to do and the tinctures will be very helpful in keeping you and your family well!

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