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!

And the disclaimer....

"This blog entry is intended to be available only to persons above the age of 18, or the above age of majority in your country. By accessing the content of the blog, by clicking on any related or third party links, you certify that you are over 18 years of age, or that you have attained the age of majority.Content available from this blog or from linked related or third party sites, is intended to be available only to the residents of those countries that allow such health related guiding content to be freely circulated.The information contained in this website is presented solely for general informational purposes so that you may learn more about the subject. NOTHING CONTAINED IN THE BLOG IS INTENDED TO CONSTITUTE, NOR SHOULD IT BE CONSIDERED, MEDICAL ADVICE OR TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE ADVICE OF A PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTH CARE PROVIDER. WE MAKE NO ASSURANCES OF THE INFORMATION BEING FIT OR SUITED TO YOUR MEDICAL NEEDS, AND DISCLAIM ANY IMPLICATIONS OF ANY CONTENT OR ADVERTISEMENT ON MY BLOG BEING FIT AS PER THE PRACTICE OF MEDICINE. NOTHING CONTAINED IN THE BLOG IS INTENDED TO GIVE RISE TO, NOR SHOULD IT BE CONSIDERED AS GIVING RISE TO, A DOCTOR PATIENT RELATIONSHIP.

October 22, 2016

Miso for Health and Radiation Protection

This blog post is a little different because although the subject is very applicable to those who read my blog, this post has some references to my prepper group and in some cases I am addressing them directly. Please don't let that put you off! The information below could save your life, please read on!

At the last meeting of The Carolina Preppers Network, we were discussing the recent escalation of threats from Russia to use nuclear weapons against US interests. During that meeting the question came up about what kind of natural defense there was against radiation poisoning. I fielded a short answer and promised a blog post on the subject, so here it is!

There are several natural treatments for protection and elimination of radiation from the body. Today I will talk about Miso, a very effective and nutritious way to protect your body from the harmful effects of radiation. If there is enough interest in this subject, I can write another post on the other treatments in the near future. Please tell me if you are interested.

Miso has been a staple in the Japanese diet since 4th century B.C. You may have had it if you eat in sushi restaurants that serve a soup with the meal. Miso is a salty tasting paste made from cooked soybeans that have been inoculated with the Aspergillus oryzae  fungus, and then fermented for a year or more. The fungus completely breaks down the soy beans, changing their composition from a potentially unhealthy estrogen mimicking food to an very healthy anti-estrogenic food. The property changes of the soy beans during the fermentation process are actually responsible for miso's radiation protective capabilities. 

The discovery of the radiation busting properties of miso came after the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Here is the story as it is documented in the medical journal, Toxicologic Pathology, *1 

 "When the 2nd atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945, physician Tatuichiro Akizuki, along with 20 employees, were taking care of 70 tuberculosis patients at "Uragami Daiichi Hospital" (St. Francis Hospital) about 1.4 km away from ground zero. However, these people including Dr. Akizuki did not have any acute radiation disease. Dr. Akizuki considered that this was the result of consuming cups of wakame miso soup (miso soup with garnish of wakame seaweed) every day. Later, his hypothesis was translated into English and became known in the West.  Years later In the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident on April 26, 1986, in the Ukraine, many Europeans consumed miso soup as a preventive measure for radiation diseases.

In 1972, Akizuki's theory was confirmed when researchers discovered that miso contains dipilocolonic acid, an alkaloid that chelates heavy metals, such as radioactive strontium, and discharges them from the body. However, the most convincing evidence demonstrating the protection miso offers to those exposed to radiation was published in Japan in 1989. Professor Akihiro Ito, at Hiroshima University's Atomic Radioactivity Medical Lab, read reports of European countries importing truckloads of miso from Japan after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.*2

Since Dr. Akizuki's initial realization and publication of his findings, there have been multiple well documented studies done trying to pinpoint the exact properties that provide the radioactive protection and at what point in the fermentation process is the miso at the optimal radiation fighting strength. In one study laboratory rats were fed miso that had fermented for different amounts of time, 30 days, 90 days and 180 days. each rat was fed a different strength of miso for two weeks and then exposed to radiation. The studies showed that miso that had been fermented for at least 180 days had a protected the rats from the harmful affects of radiation exposure, those miso that were less mature than 180 days had no gave no protection from radiation. *Read the whole study here   Although miso has been scientifically proven to protect against radiation exposure, it has its limits. It cannot protect from the blast, from radiation burns or from extreme amounts of radiation exposure. Also, it is most effective when in the system prior to radiation exposure. 

Since miso is most effective when in the body prior to exposure, it is probably a good idea to begin proactively using miso, by incorporating it into your daily diet. Which is a good idea anyway, since miso is also very effective in protecting against several kinds of cancer including breast, liver, intestinal and stomach cancer as well as hypertension, (Even though miso is high in salt, it has been shown to actually have a positive affect on hypertension. Instead of causing a rise in blood pressure, it actually reduces it).

There are many kinds of miso, some made with soy and rice, some with soy and barley, even one made from chickpeas instead of soy, but for the purpose of protecting against radiation, the miso of choice is the red miso. Red miso is made from soybeans and barley which is fermented much longer than white or yellow miso and has the highest quantity of soybeans. The radiation protecting properties don't develop in miso that is fermented for less than 180 days. Red miso is fermented for 18 months. Although I use all the different kinds of miso in my kitchen, depending on what I am using it for, but my absolute favorite is the red miso. It has a meaty, rich flavor and adds a depth of character to the foods I prepare with it. (I am giving away one of my kitchen secrets here... wink, wink). 

Miso is available at most natural food stores, Earth Fare in Charlotte carries it so does Whole Foods and Healthy Home Market. I use Miso Master for several reasons: it is made from organic soy beans and organic barley, so you can be sure it isn't GMO, (most non organic soybeans are GMO), it is an unpasturized, vital living food, (pasturized miso is dead, it won't be any use as a protection against radiation). It is also gluten free, kosher and is made locally, for almost 30 years in Asheville, NC. Most other brands I have tried cannot compete in quality or taste and I always buy local if possible. 

Miso is a fermented food, so if you are making your own, it can be left in its crock at room temperature while fermenting. Once fermentation is complete and you start using it and exposing it to the air, it is best to store in a cool dark place. I keep my collection of Miso Master miso tubs in the back corner of the fridge in a stack that is easy to get to. In a grid down situation, it is possible to store miso at room temperature as long as you are sure it is unpasturized. If you keep a layer of plastic in contact with the surface of the miso, and keep it in the coolest darkest place you can find it will be fine. It may form a thin layer of mold on top, but it is a harmless kind of mold, so just scrape it off and use what is underneath. For Long Term Storage I have located a source of freeze dried Red Miso. It comes in a 3.5 oz. size, in a bag,  and a 45 oz. size in a can ,(click blue letter to follow link) Here is some info from the package of freeze dried miso:  Our red miso powder is produced in a USDA Certified Organic Facility. It does not contain any gluten or wheat. It's certified kosher, vegan and of course non-GMO. We've also laboratory-verified this miso powder to meet our A+++ high standard for purity. Importantly, this miso powder is freeze-dried to preserve its freshness and nutritional qualities. The cost may seem high, but it goes a long way and having a supply on hand of fresh miso for daily use and freeze dried for emergencies could save your life.

I use miso almost every day. I am vegan so there are a few dietary challenges that miso helps solve. It is hard for a vegan to get enough Vitamin B-12, (which is necessary for brain function, and for a healthy nervous system and blood cells. Miso doesn't have a complete daily requirement but it helps me get there). Miso is also a complete protein so if I am getting my miso daily, I don't need to think about protein intake. I tell you this because in some SHTF situations it might be very difficult to find enough sources of B-12 or a complete protein. So miso could be a solution to not having the availability of your usual protein sources. 

So what do you do with Miso? I make a simple miso soup for lunch, that has fresh chopped garlic and ginger, a pinch of wakame seaweed, (I will do a whole post on why you should have seaweed in your preps... your life could depend on having it), and an ample tablespoon of red miso. I put all the ingredients except the wakame, in a bullet blender and add 1/4 cup of water and blend. Then I pour the contents into a large soup bowl and pour in boiling water to fill about 3/4 of the bowl. I add the wakame, then leave for 5 minutes so the it can rehydrate. It is delicious! Miso can be added instead of salt and bouillon to soups, casseroles, meatloaf, chili, taco filling, really any food you want to give a rich, deep flavor. I use it in homemade salad dressings, in marinades, I brush it on grilled vegetables or use instead of butter and salt on corn on the cobb... yum! However I use it, I try to make sure that everyone in the house gets at least 1 tblsp. of miso a day, to protect from possible radiation exposure, heavy metals and other free radicals. The world we live in on a regular day exposes all of us to higher than safe levels of radiation, toxins and exposure to heavy metals. The use of miso is part of our cancer prevention program, so it isn't only good for protection against a nuclear event, it can help protect you in every day life from cancer causing toxins.

I know this is running long and I still have a few things left to say, but I think the info is important so hang in there I will be done soon! 

I have had this book on my book shelf since it was published in 1976... I guess I classify as a hippy... or at least that is what my kids and the leader of my Prepper's group who assigned me this post call me... This book is priceless for a couple of reasons, it has boo-koodles of really tasty and useful recipes, (400 recipes), provides invaluable information on the types of miso, its history and even how to make your own miso. Both the first edition which came out in 1976 and the second edition which was published by Ten Speed Press in 2001, are available on

This well worn copy has been on my shelf since 1976

I have found a source for the Aspergillis Oryzae and some other fun cultures for making other similarly healthful fermented foods.

Fun to be had now that I have my cultures!

 I have been searching for just the right kind of containers that will serve to house the miso I am going to make. It will be living on my counter for at least a year while it becomes its best self, so the container needed to be both specifically appropriate for this purpose and pretty enough to be taking up precious space on my counter for a year. I finally found them! I bought two to start with but am on the look out for more.They are really kimchee pots but will serve the purpose perfectly!

This will hold enough to keep us in miso for a year.
The outer lid protects the contents from dust, insects
 and unwanted airborne spores.

The inner lid is a second layer of protection from the elements.
After filling the inner lid will be put on and sealed shut with wax to
 prevent contamination. In other words... no peeking!
The interior is glazed and the jar is straight sided for ease of access..
the jar will be filled all the way to the top. Then the interior
 lid will be sealed and the outer lid will be place on . Then it will
 sit pretty as a picture on my counter for at least a year
 while secretly inside a miracle is happening....

  If anyone from my local group is interested in hanging with me and learning how to do this, touch base with me on the forum.
If you are interested in getting your own cultures for miso then here is the link to where you can buy them:

And finally, here is a sneek peek into a future post on alternative sources of protein and how to store and use organic soybeans...

*1. Toxicologic Pathology "Beneficial Biological Effects of Miso with Reference to Radiation Injury, Cancer and Hypertension"


October 8, 2016

Edible and Medicinal Landscaping : Garlic Chives

One of my favorite places to sit and have my coffee in the morning is the veranda that over looks our east side herb garden. In this garden we have a mix of annual and perennial flowers and culinary and medicinal herbs. The perennials are grown for their return performances every year and for the fact that most of them are either culinary or medicinal, and the annuals for their vibrant colors and attractiveness to beneficial insects. The combination gives us a riot of color and lots of bird and insect activity. It is bliss to sit out in the early morning mist, watching the garden wake up.

A perennial that excels in both form and function is the garlic chive. It looks lovely in spring, summer and fall. In the spring, its clumps of bright green blades are the first herbs to emerge from their winter slumber. I can start cutting them for light use just weeks after they emerge. In summer they become a cooling foil for the brilliant colors that abound in this garden. In late summer the garlic chives put up strong stems and clusters of clean white flowers that wave in the breeze and attract both bees and butterflies. In fall the shapely seed heads add some interest to the front of the beds.

A Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly enjoying the garlic chive blossoms.

Many other beneficial insects and pollinators
visit the garlic chive flowers as well.
Both garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, and onion chives, Allium schoenoprasum, come from the onion family. Unlike the onion chive which has hollow blades that taste faintly of onion and spring blooming pink flowers, the garlic chive has thick, flat, grass-like blades that have the strong flavor and scent of garlic and puts out star shaped clusters of white blooms in late summer. Onion chive bulbs are edible, and look like little onions, but garlic chives have no actual bulb, instead it has inedible, fiberous roots.The blades, buds, flowers and stems of both species are all edible; the seeds are used medicinally. I only have garlic chives in this heavy North Carolina soil since onion chives tend to be a bit more fussy. Maybe because it has bulbs that are prone to rot instead of the fibrous roots that garlic chive has. Both would be very pretty bordering a flower bed or as part of an herb garden.

                             Cultivation and Propagation

Garlic chives are a hardy perennial. They form tight clumps that can be divided and replanted to propagate and they will self seed. If started from seed the seeds should be planted indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost, sprinkle 10-15 seeds evenly distributed on top of the soil in the seed cells, cover with planting mix 1/8 to 1/4' thick over the seeds and firm. Keep evenly moist and feed once the sprouts emerge. For best results keep under artificial until danger of frost has passed, (follow the link to see my blog post on starting seeds indoors). They need full sun and like good rich soil and lots of water, they will take what they are given as far as water goes but they don't like shade.

                                   Nutritional Information

Garlic chives are high in vitamin C as well as Vitamin A, and Potassium. They contain high amounts of carotene, Vitamin B1, (thiamine) and Vitamin B2, (riboflavin) and a substantial amount of calcium and iron as well as other minerals.

                             Culinary Uses

The blades of garlic chives are best used raw in order to make the most of their nutritional value. They can be added to green salads, potato salad, chicken salad or tuna salad, or sprinkled on cooked foods like fish, right before being served. One of my favorite ways to use them is in Oi Sobagi, (follow the blue link for the recipe which is on my other blog A View From the Cottage), a Korean naturally fermented kimchee that is a staple at our house.

                             Medicinal Uses 

Traditionally, the blades of chives were used internally to treat intestinal parasites, to aid in digestion and boost the immune system. Topically they were bruised and used to take the sting out of a bee sting or treat a bug bite. The whole plant is antibacterial.The seeds are used to treat kidney and liver disorders.


You can start cutting the blades of garlic chives once they are 8-10 inches tall. Do not cut closer than 4" from the point where the blades split away from each other, about 4- 6 inches from the ground. If you have more than one clump, then take some from each clump rather than cutting it all from the same plant. I try to leave some tall blades on each clump for aesthetic purposes, but it is alright to cut them all, the plants will put up new blades post haste. The blossom stalks can be cut when the blooms are still tight buds and used in Asian cuisine, but I am very fond of the blooms in my garden and like to save the seed, so I don't cut the blooms.

To save the seed, when the seed heads start to turn yellow, cut the stalks just above the blade tips and hang upside down to dry. Put a container under the seed heads to catch the seeds that will begin to pop out as the heads dry, or Cut the heads from the stalks and use dehydrator trays or baking sheets to dry the seeds heads, or do what I do and use a Stack!t herb drying unit, cut the heads off and distribute evenly on the netting, leave in a spot with good air circulation until the seed heads are brown and papery and the black seeds are easily removed. Remove chaff by gently rubbing the seed heads between your hands and then blowing chaff away, (best done outside to reduce the mess, but use a tray under your hands so you don't lose your

These seed heads are ready for harvest.

Stalks are long and Seed heads are born high above the blades
so you can harvest the seed heads for hanging while leaving the blades on the plant.

Distribute the seed heads evenly, leaving air space between the heads.

Hang the Stack!t outside in good weather, but be sure to bring it in
 before it rains and or at the end of a day so it doesn't get damp from the dew.
 I have a place inside and outside for hanging mine.
 All you really need is a place that is dry and has good air circulation.

Garlic Chives are a winner in any garden, why don't you give them a try! Thanks for coming by! Comments are always appreciated... it is nice to know that I am not just talking to myself ;)

*All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted. Please don't use my photos without asking me first...

October 4, 2016

Edible and Medicinal Landscaping : Lemongrass

Since we moved to our property in 1989, it has been our intention to grow as much of our food and medicine as our little property will support. Much of our yard is planted with "edible landscaping". We live in the country, in the unincorporated area outside of a small town. We are not in a subdivision, so we can plant whatever we want, where ever we want. But many people live in subdivisions that severely limit what people can plant in their own yards. So periodically I want to showcase an edible or medicinal plant that can go in the landscape of even the most domineering of HOA's. So, with landscaping limitations in mind, I present you the lovely, low maintenance, edible and medicinal Lemongrass!

Lemongrass is a beautiful, heat and moisture loving tropical. As a feature in the landscape it can take the place of or can be added to plantings of other strictly ornamental clumping grasses, like Blue Oat Grass or Tufted Hair Grass. No one would ever know that it is a edible and medicinal herb and would likely not offend any HOA planting restrictions.

                            The Nutritional Value of Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains Vitamin A, B1, (thiamine), B2,(riboflavin), B3,(niacin), B5, (pantothenic acid), 6, (pyrodoxine), and folate, (folic acid), and Vitamin C. It also provides many essential minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc and iron.  

                          The Medicinal Properties of Lemongrass

Aside from being a delicious addition to many culinary masterpieces, lemongrass also has many health benefits. It can be used in a variety of ways, in teas, in food, tinctures, salves and as hydrosols and essential oils. Lemongrass is antioxidant, anti fungal, and antimicrobial. It plays many roles in maintaining health. Lemongrass detoxifies the kidneys and liver, lower levels of uric acid and eliminates collected fats in the tissues. It lowers cholesterol, and reduces the risk of cardiac disease. It impedes the growth of liver and breast cancer, and promotes cellular apoptosis. The anti-inflammatory properties aid in gastric disorders such as constipation, ulcerated colitis, diarrhea and stomach aches. Due to its anti fungal properties it is effective in treating ringworm, athlete's foot, and other skin fungus issues. It aids in sleep, reduces fever, relieves aches and pains, soothes the nervous system, and treats respiratory infections. The essential oil when applied with a carrier oil to the skin, conditions connective tissues, which helps with tendinitis, fibromyalgia connective tissue spasms, and reduces edema.                           

             Growing and Using Lemongrass

When we lived in Costa Rica, I saw lemongrass growing wild everywhere, but had no idea what it was. One day I was visiting friends, we were walking their gardens to see what was growing and I saw the bright green grass clumps growing as a border in their herb garden. I asked them what it was and they told me it was lemongrass. Soon I had a clump of lemongrass in our rain forest garden on the mountain and have had it every year since.

Lemongrass is easy to grow. It is not fussy about soil types, and even though it likes moisture, it will hang tough even in drought conditions. Because it is a tropical, I plant lemongrass in large planters and bring them inside to winter over in the house before the first frost. But it can be planted in the ground and then lifted, potted up and brought in the house when the weather turns cold.                            
At the end of the season, I divide the lemongrass clumps into two categories over wintering and harvesting. I harvest the majority of it for use in cooking, tea making and medicines and transplant enough of the lemongrass to pots to start next years crop, and overwinter it in the house. To re-pot the lemongrass I will overwinter, I cut the tops back to about 6" above the fibrous neck of the stalks and pot it up with a mixture of compost, Coco Coir, (can be purchased at Walmart), and organic potting soil. I reserve the blades for drying and using in teas.

Lemongrass I pulled away from the clump to use for transplanting.
I can harvest individual stalks for use or for propagation,
without damaging the mother clump.
It is easy to "steal" from the clump for current use or for propagation.
Just find a thick fleshy stalk, pull sideways until the stalk separates
from the clump slightly and then pull up firmly until the stalk comes free
from the clump.There will be enough roots on the stalk to transplant.

The clumps that I harvest are treated in several ways, I trim the blades off of all the stalks, and dry them in my Stack!t dehydration rack or in my Excaliber Dehydrator, (the Stack!t works best for the thin blades of lemongrass since they air dry without a fan, the Excaliber tends to blow the blades around alot).

Skittles is quality controlling my work as I cut
the tops from the lemongrass I will transplant  
The fleshy parts of the stalk I divide into thirds. I peel the woody outside leaves from the stalks, trim off the root end of the lemongrass and blend one third of the harvest into a paste.  I put into a tiny cell ice tray and freeze. I then pop out the mini cubes, putting them into a freezer bag for use later in curries and other dishes.

The ice cube cell holds about a tablespoon, which is a great size
for freezing foods like lemongrass, home made tomato paste,
 and food blends like pesto. In this photo there is
sunflower seed pesto in the tray.
 I chop one third into 1/2 inch pieces and freeze for use infusions, tinctures and making medicinal honeys later.

I use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the stalks,
 since they are quite fiberous and difficult to cut.

The last third I peel then cut the stalks into 2 inch pieces. I split the pieces lengthwise into small sections and place them on dehydrator sheets and dry, using only the fan but no heat.

The dehydrated lemongrass can be stored several ways depending on what is on hand. It can be stored in a Mason jar with the two part lid and an small O2 absorber.

Another way is to Vacuum seal with a Foodsaver that has a Mason jar attachment, the corresponding sized Mason Jar and a two part lid.

The jar attachment for the Foodsaver is placed over the jar
 and the flat part of the lid.
The Foodsaver removes all the air from the jar causing a vacuum
which seals the lid to the jar just like it was processed in a canner.
Once the jar is sealed, the band can be put on and then the jar
 can be labeled and stored in a cool dark place. The contents will last
 for years if properly stored. (*note: It is not time for me to harvest
my lemongrass for the season, so I am using a few photos from other
 projects, in this case the calendula flowers I recently harvested).
If storing in Mason jars, the lemongrass should be stored in a cool, dark place to preserve the volatile oils. For longer term storage the dried lemongrass it is best to store in small mylar bags with an O2 absorber, labeled and kept with other LTS culinary and medicinal herbs.

So if you are looking for a plant to that serves multiple purposes, look no further, lemongrass is edible, medicinal and looks great in the landscaping.

September 30, 2016

Live for Today, Prepare for Tomorow

I woke up this morning to a delicious cool breeze blowing in through the open bedroom window. It reminded me of mornings on the farm where we lived in Costa Rica. Those were golden days, a life out of time and space from our normal existence. It was during our year living on a farm in the rain forest, that our focus for the future and purpose for prepping changed. Before we left for Costa Rica my life focus had been trying on to survive a future cataclysm, always listening to what was "happening" and worrying about our what the future might bring...

Then late in 2008, my husband was diagnosed with a rare, life threatening brain disorder. Suddenly
A view of Volcan Arenal, the 10th most active volcano on Earth.
This is a view from our side of the lake.
all the world and its problems faded into the background as we came to grips with our new reality. My husband had brain surgery which remedied several of the problems he had, but one was in the frontal lobe and was inoperable. So once he had recovered from his surgery, we went about making plans to LIVE LIFE TODAY, since today might be all we had together. We reduced our possessions to what would fit in one room of our house, closed the door and rented the rest of the house to a friend who we knew would take enjoy and care for our gardens. We found good homes for all of our animals,(except for our pup Tagg who went with us), packed up a few belongings, and moved to Costa Rica to live on a farm with a view of Arenal Volcano. My husband and I have always loved traveling and living in different cultures, he speaks Spanish very well, so we decided that Costa Rica a great place to go to be together for as long as he was well enough to enjoy being there. 

We lived in a fairly remote area. We had internet, but it was sporadic. We had little news, only what we could cull from online sources when we had internet, and soon, day by day, our overall interest in what was going on in the world at large diminished. We had no "preps" with us, everything had been left behind in the USA. All we had was the skills that we had cultivated over the years and a farm full of exotic fruits, tropical birds and the rain forest. We got the opportunity to see what it would be like to live without much of what we previously considered necessary for daily life. We had no car at first, no computer, no TV, (we never did have a TV with programming in stateside life, but in CR if we were somewhere that had a TV, it was in Spanish),  we had no stove/oven, just a two burner counter top propane cook top, (similar to a Coleman camp stove without the cover). There was no water heater. There was little variety to choose from when shopping for groceries, I had to learn to make do with whatever there was available. Our well honed Stateside gardening skills were daily challenged by insects and soil issues we had never encountered before. We were basically starting over, learning how to make do and live a different life, one where we didn't always know the rules or know how to do what needed to be done.

This is the third time our son planted his tomatoes... both previous times, right before they
 bore ripe fruit the Cutter ants marched through and ate everything down to the ground.

            During the "Honeymoon Phase", it was all exciting and wonderful. An adventure.

Ripening mangos in the lane along the walk to the gardens. We also had manderines, avacado,
 oranges, star fruit, Mora (like black raspberries), water apples and many other wild
 tropical fruits I don't have English names for.

Bougainvillea and Trumpet vines growing wild 
Orchids that grew on the trees near the farmhouse.
But reality soon overtook the romance of it all, and we found ourselves working from daybreak to dusk just trying to stay ahead of the jungle.

Laundry done by hand hung under cover to keep the rain forest from
soaking the almost dry clothes
First Bean crop. The winds blew so strong it twisted the
 tops off of all the bean plants. 
Two planting later we finally managed to get a harvest by changing planting locations and building
 wind breaks to protect the plants from a constant 20-30 mph wind on the top of the mountain
We built a large, beautiful green house from rebar and covered it with plastic.The Tilawa winds hammered
 the rebar frame to the ground and the plastic was blown all the was to Sabalito
 at the bottom of our mountain. We had to learn to use low
 row covers and wind breaks to shelter our seedlings
But something wonderful was happening, I worried less, there was no sense of impending doom clouding the joys of everyday life. I had no time for podcasts full of bad news, extolling the virtues of acquiring silver and gold, stockpiling weapons and ammo, filling me with dread and fear. In its place I was having a real life experience, learning to survive in what easily could have resembled post apocalyptic life. Granted our experience was minus the fear of violence, looters, disease, etc, but what our experience lacked in those challenges it made up for in other. Vipers, jaguars and other wild creatures, insects that could bring on screaming nightmares, like scorpions the size of your hand getting into bed with you, Cutter ants that could carry off your entire mature garden in a matter of hours and ticks that were like heat seeking missiles and could find your soft flesh in seconds and cover you by the hundreds....

This scorpion one was 10 inches long tip to tail. It was hiding on the back of my cutting board and dropped between my feet when I pulled the cutting board off the shelf. It stung me on the toe when I went to stomp on it. Lesson learned, take your sandal off and smack it, don't step on it with your foot in the sandal!
Costa Rica was every day a dream and a nightmare. But we adapted, grew more saavy about how to contend with the challenges and soon we were living in harmony with our surroundings and learning to sway with what challenges a day in the rain forest could bring. Life was simple. Life was good. The world did not come to an end because we weren't keeping up with what was going on...

Bromiliads bloom on every tree

Howler monkeys serenade us while we work in the gardens
a Keel Billed Toucan. This male and his bride were nesting in a huge mango tree
 behind the cabina, (small cabin), out on the farm

While living in Costa Rica some of our fundamental attitudes about prepping changed. We no longer focused on how bad things might get, but focused on how we could make a good today. It became more about living and less about future survival. Now we are living back in the States, a transition that I am still struggling with... but I try to remember the lessons I learned in our year out of time. Live simply, work hard, make do with what you have, find creative solutions to challenges, have courage in the face of danger, but remember life is given as a gift from on high, and it was meant to be enjoyed.

A lovely view from one of the fence lines on the farm
We are of course still practicing our skills and constantly learning new ones, we are maintaining our food supplies, and staying debt free. We grow as much of our own food as possible, make our own medicines and do as much as we possibly can to be self-reliant and self-sustaining. But our focus is on being responsible for our lives and as self reliant as possible. So that whatever may come, in as much as circumstances will allow, we are able to face it on our own terms.We also spend a lot of time educating and encouraging others to be self-sustaining and self-reliant, sharing our knowledge and experience, in the hopes that others will discover what we did... that life shouldn't be driven by fear and worry, but should be lived in a simple and sustainable way, that gives quality of life day to day and provides the skills, knowledge and resources that may be necessary to live in this uncertain world. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...