Book Review: The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180107_082557I’m chasing sunshine for the next few months in a 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton motorhome. We left Northeast Ohio when it was -3 F and drove South. We’ll soon veer West and continue until we hit San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. I hope the travel adventure will make my blog richer. I plan to visit garden and herb-related sites and will share as I might.

Another goal of this trip is to catch up on reading. And, the second book I read – if The Whole Seed Catalog can count as the first – is The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook by Carrie Schloss. The elegant, 200-page book celebrates honey with both savory and sweet recipes. You might expect something like Mexican chocolate cookies or candied walnuts, but what about chipotle-honey marinated skirt steak or eggplant parmesan stacks?

20180111_133737I’d visited the Bee Charmer retail outlet in Asheville, N.C., in 2016 and was excited when owners Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen introduced their cookbook late in 2017. The first recipe I tried was honey-roasted Brussels sprouts. Score.

This honey cookbook is relevant to herb lovers for two reasons. First, honey characteristics are shaped by flower of origin. Thus wildflower honey tastes different from lavender honey from sage honey. In the cookbook author Schloss describes the characteristics of different honeys then builds recipes around various varietals and infusions.

Lavender, for example, tastes “light, delicate, floral, lavender, peach and slightly acidic.” Meanwhile, sage is more like toasty, smoky, oak. And, dandelion offers flavors of vanilla and chamomile.

Varietals include acacia, basswood, blackberry, blueberry, buckwheat, carrot, clover, corsican blossom, cranberry, dandelion, fir, ginger, lavender, meadowfoam, orange blossom, raspberry, sage, sourwood, Tasmanian leatherwood, tupelo and wildflower.

The second reason for herbal interest is honey infusions created by Jill and Kim. The duo sells seven infusions that inspired Schloss’s recipes.

Infusions include chai, chipotle, cocoa, firecracker hot, ghost pepper, mint and rosemary.

20180111_133800.jpgTo make all the recipes in this book you’d have to stock 28 varietals and blends. You can purchase them at the Bee Charmer retail or online. I don’t have that much space in the RV, so I may cheat and get by with a few substitutions in the recipes I choose. My next project will be the rosemary polenta cake. This will have to wait until we slow down and stay at one campground for two weeks. Then, I can pull out the toaster oven, stir up the corn meal and make friends to help eat it.

Start Gardening Season with Baker Creek

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180111_131159After cleaning up Christmas decorations, I was ready for armchair gardening season. My first purchase was The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. To me it’s the Holy Grail of seed catalogs – 356 pages of unusual, exotic and often extreme vegetables, herbs and flowers from around the world.

I raced through 272 pages of lushly illustrated vegetable porn to get to the herb section. I’ll return later to read about one-pound beets, rainbow corn and celtuce.

In the herb section I savored descriptions from ashwaganda to yarrow. I can’t decide which of the 21 basils I want to grow. I want to try Moldavian balm, a purple-flowered tea herb in the mint family. I could grow dandelion, mullein, nettle and purslane instead of foraging them. But why?

Safflower, toothache plant, white horehound … I want, want, want.

Moldavian balm

Four pages of new herbs for 2018 include three perillas, oyster leaf and self heal, among others.

While the herb section ends at page 290, the herb options continue in a 50-page flower section. Stars include calendula and milkweed. My favorites are the 11 nasturtium and five edible pansy options. Both are impressive in salads.

From the books and gifts section I may order Clyde’s Garden Planner, just $3.

If you don’t want to spend $9.99 on the full-blown catalog, consider ordering the shorter, free version. Then, settle into your armchair and circle your faves. Better yet, order them and get growing.

New Course teaches 7 Rules of Safe, Ethical Foraging & More

words 2Photos and text by Juliet Blankespoor, Guest Blogger, Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

  1. Only forage abundant plants with a large, widespread population.

In my practice, I favor plant species with a sizable population—preferably widespread over a large geographical area—and avoid using rare or less populous species. I won’t harvest rare plants from the wild at all, and I teach my students the same. Along these lines, you can start by avoiding the harvest of woodland medicinals and instead favor the weedy medicines of field and pasture. If you’re unsure whether a food or medicine is abundant in your area, you can consult resources like the United Plant Savers and state and federal listings of endangered and at-risk species.

Never harvest a plant without first assessing its population and the pressures it might face from habitat loss or commercial demand. For example, a plant may be locally abundant, but if there’s a widespread demand, it can quickly disappear, its population decimated from overharvesting.Harvesting-garlic-mustard-an-invasive-weed-in-North-America-Alliaria-petiolata

  1. Favor harvesting plants that are nonnative.

One of the first things I consider when choosing which plants to forage is whether a plant is native and tied into local food webs or is an escapee from other lands. Nonnatives displace native species by competing with them for natural resources. These opportunistic plants haven’t evolved locally with the same checks and balances that native plants have experienced, and so they often flourish. This makes them prime forage for humans, especially because they stick close to places we inhabit, thriving in cities, gardens, fields, and the like. In the southeastern United States, many of our most common wild weedy medicinals are nonnatives, including multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), burdock (Arctium minus), and many species of blackberry and raspberry (Rubus spp.).

  1. Tend the spaces “in between.”

For those who grow a garden, wild weeds will naturally make themselves at home—and can peacefully cohabitate with planted veggies and herbs. You can employ plenty of tricks to help them play nice, and, as a reward for acting as a botanical referee, you’ll harvest even more food and medicine from your garden! This is the bounty that grows in between: the medicine and food that you didn’t plant yet still get to reap. My plant friend Frank Cook, who has passed on, used to teach in his classes that more than half the bounty of a garden could be found in the “in between” in the form of useful opportunistic plants. People all around the world capitalize on this abundant resource, casually “cultivating” weeds in the in-between spaces.

Let’s take lamb’s quarters as an example of this useful-weed-and-planted-crop-polyculture method. Lamb’s quarters—also called wild spinach—has more fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc, and calcium than cultivated spinach. Why would you weed out such a nutritious plant that doesn’t need special care or insect control to make room for less nutritious vegetables that are harder to grow?

In my garden, I leave the wild spinach that comes up between recently planted vegetable and herb crops. After harvesting the wild spinach for a few weeks or a month, the veggies fill out, and then I pull out the lamb’s quarters and use them as mulch for the planted crops. Wild spinach requires no cultivation after it finds its way into the garden and is relatively disease- and insect-free.

  1. Be a steward.

Violet-flowers-Viola-sororiaEven when you gather plentiful (possibly pesky) plants, be attune to a code of ethics. You’re interacting with living, breathing beings. Take only what you need, leave beauty in your wake (leave no trace), and bring an offering to make before you go—a song, some water, your hair, a handful of grain. An offering invites a feeling of gratitude, reciprocity, and reverence. If you’re more science-minded, perhaps you’ll take a moment to breathe intentionally, meditating on the reciprocity of plant-human gas exchange, cellular respiration and photosynthesis. You might feel silly at first, but allow yourself the opportunity to be surprised. This is how we participate in the ancient plant-human dance of mutual connection, communication, and care.

If the plant you’re harvesting is native—and you’ve already assessed that it’s abundant enough to harvest—be extra conscientious about not overharvesting. If you’re harvesting an herbaceous plant with multiple stems, take only a stem or two from each plant. Spread your harvest out over a larger area and be sure to leave plenty of flowers and fruit for the plants to reproduce. If you’re harvesting roots, replant the root crown or take only a portion of each plant’s root system. When digging up roots, be sure to cut back the aboveground parts so the plant doesn’t become stressed for water with a root system that no longer matches its aboveground growth. These regenerative practices don’t necessarily need to be followed for invasive weeds with global distribution.

  1. Harvest in areas where you know nobody has sprayed herbicide.

It’s important to avoid gathering plants near roads, railroads, and power lines, as the surrounding soil is typically contaminated with lead, herbicides, and other toxins. Always harvest at least 30 feet from the road and make sure you are not harvesting in an area with environmental toxicity (such as the flood banks of a polluted river). Even hay fields that appear to be untended might be sprayed with herbicides.

The foundations of older homes are also problematic, as they are typically sprayed for insect control or weeds. If you live in the city, consider visiting a local organic urban farm or community garden, where you’re likely to find an abundance of yummy weeds, along with gardeners who are happy to share the bounty.

  1. Properly identify any plant before you harvest it for food or medicine.Harvesting-sarsparilla-root-Smilax-sp.

If in doubt, do NOT harvest! Consult your local extension agent, master gardener, or trusted herbalist if you need help with identification. If someone else shows you a plant, do your own homework and make sure that they are right before you harvest. Spend time with plants over the seasons—double-checking both photographs and written descriptions—before you make your move. Learn the poisonous species in your region. Chant to self: COMBINATION OF CHARACTERISTICS FOR PROPER IDENTIFICATION. This is crucial. Identifying plants requires that you look at a combination of specific traits (rather than one or two traits alone), essentially differentiating your plant from the herd.

I’ve learned from teaching wild foods classes over the years that the beginners are often the ones who are appropriately cautious, whereas the folks who know a little more can get bold, lose their cautiousness, and make the wrong move. One wrong move can end up being your last move! There are over a thousand species of poisonous plants in the world, some of which are so poisonous that one to two bites are enough to kill an adult.

Here are a few poisonous plants to learn before you start foraging. This is not a comprehensive list of poisonous plants, which will vary depending on your bioregion. Consult local field guides, governmental websites, and extension offices.

Here are some resources for helping with plant identification:

  1. USDA Plant DatabaseYou can search by common name or scientific name for plants. The database shows photos of the plant, its current range, and sometimes illustrations.
  2. Go Botany: Simple Plant Key for New England
  3. The Chestnut School’s link pagehas some great resources on the subject, listed under botany and wild foods.
  4. The Chestnut School’s Pinterest pagehas two boards you might find helpful: botany and wild foods.
  5. List of plant identification websites
  6. Facebook group for help identifying plants

 

  1. Consider the neighbors and legality. 

Always ask permission from the landowner if harvesting on private land. If you want to harvest on governmental land,  check with the managing agency for regulations and permits. Be aware of the different classifications of land management. In the United States, national parks are often visited for their natural beauty and are not generally logged or leased for grazing cattle. The U.S. National Forests are often managed for resources and may be clear-cut and grazed by cattle. You can often obtain permits to gather wild plants for personal use from your local U.S. Forest Service.
Online-Foraging-Course-Edible-and-Medicinal-Wild-Herbs-1

 

McCormick Predicts Flavors of 2018

McCormick Predicts Flavors of 2018

riceballsMcCormick & Company’s Flavor Forecast® 2018 looks at the latest ingredients, cooking techniques and culinary ideas driving flavor at restaurants, on retail shelves and in home kitchens.  Their 2018 Flavor Forecast highlights the casual, adventurous and interactive nature of how people are eating across the globe.

“For 2018, look to new eating experiences that invite sharing, are globally inspired and pack a flavorful punch,” said McCormick Executive Chef Kevan Vetter. While spices play heavy in the trend, herbs have a strong role as well. Here are the five flavor trends the chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and flavor experts at McCormick have identified for 2018.

image_sq3

  • Handheld Flavor Fusion – Take to the streets for the latest fusing of global cuisines. Carts, trucks and food halls are merging high-flavor fillings with unique crepes, buns and breads for loaded street fare you eat with your hands.

 

  • A Bite of East Africa – East African cuisine is a treasure trove of flavor. The signature seasonings, BBQ marinades and sauces of Tanzania and Ethiopia are being explored across the globe.: Ethiopia’s most popular seasoning — berbere — contains an array of spices like paprika, allspice, coriander, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and red pepper.

 

  • Japanese Izakaya Eats – Sushi isn’t the only bite-sized food Japan has to offer. Izakayas–Japanese gastropubs–serve up casual tasting plates, similar to Spanish tapas. Featuring bold glazes, seaweed seasonings and tangy dipping sauces, these dishes are an explosion of flavor.

 

  • cocktailDrink to Your Wellness – Wellness never tasted so good. Breakfast boosts, snacking soups and end-of-day sips feature robust flavors and uplifting ingredients like cucumber, dandelion greens, ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Awaken, stay energized, rebalance and above all, enjoy.

 

  • Globetrot with Hot Pot – Throw an Asian hot pot party and leave the cooking to your guests. Gather friends around a steamy pot of deeply flavored broth. Offer meat, seafood and veggies for dunking, then finish with various toppings for a new DIY meal. This East Asian favorite can be easily changed up to go Mexican, Caribbean and more.

image_sq4Learn more about the flavors of 2018.

Review the 2017 Flavor Forecast.

Review the 2016 Flavor Forecast.

Make Herbal Lollipops for Gift Giving

Make Herbal Lollipops for Gift Giving

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Every Christmas I craft gifts for family and friends. In previous years I’ve made scarves, herbal sachets, infused liqueurs, jams and jellies. This year, my family and friends are getting colorful, handcrafted lollipop bouquets.  With herbal flavors

20171217_094512It started with a Liquor Lollipop book I found at Horizontal Books in Cleveland.  I was reading it in bed one night in October when the idea of bourbon lollipops got stuck in my brain.

I made them. They were good. And the Great Lollipop Project began.

Playing with sugars was sweet. I got stuck on the process. Soon, I was tweaking the basic recipe and adding herbal influences. More than 300 lollipops later I’m sharing what I learned.

20171217_094142-e1513522917422.jpgWhile Lorann brand drams are typical flavoring choices, I also found flavor emulsions at Home Goods and Joann stores.  I used lavender oil (the tiniest amount) and rosewater. Even with standard flavors I did a little twist. I grated nutmeg onto eggnog suckers. I created cordial flavor mixing chocolate, cherry and vanilla.  I needed to infuse my creativity into these lollipops.

After a bit, I had dozens of lollipops and  wanted to share them with everyone I knew. Thus, Christmas gifts. To impress recipients (and feed my ego) I wanted credit for new experiences. So, I dug back into the Liquor Lollipop book with herbs, not spirits, in mind.

My thought was to infuse the spirit with herbal goodness, then make the lollipop. The alcohol would carry the flavor. And, in most cases it worked.  I made lemon thyme, blackberry sage, herbal tea and other unique flavors.

Here’s what I learned

  • 20171217_094454Choose silicon molds. I learned that the hard way. They release the candy every time. They cost a little more, but reduce frustration.
  • Add flavoring and coloring last. They may burn or cook off if added while cooking.
  • Herbal oils are potent, use small amounts.
  • Sprinkle in ground chile pepper – chipotle-chocolate, watermelon-jalapeno – when using, at the very end.
  • Infuse vodka/bourbon/others with herbs overnight.
  • Use only true spirits. Flavored or sweetener-enhanced liqueurs are unpredictable and may burn.
  • Temperature rises quickly after 260 F. I putter around the kitchen while cooking the syrup, until 260 F. Then, the syrup needs close babysitting.
  • Color lollipops for edible appeal.
  • Be willing to fail. Improvisation sometimes fails. Trash bad results and move on.

 

BASIC RECIPE

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup liquor, infused
  •  3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon infused liquor OR other flavoring
  • Coloring

Prepare molds with sticks.

Place sugar and first three liquids into heavy-bottom sauce pan. Boil until temperature reaches 260 F. Then, continue to boil, watching closely until 300 F. Remove from heat. Stir in flavoring and coloring.

Working quickly and carefully, pour into prepared molds. Wait at least 20 minutes until set.

Remove, wrap in small bags and secure with twist tie.

20171217_094058MORE IDEAS … For the holiday add crushed candy canes (mint) to the molds before adding mint- or chocolate-flavored candy … Instead of herbs, add chile pepper powder to molds and cover with hot candy … Use herb-fruit combinations like blackberry sage … Enhance lemon-thyme infusion with lemon flavoring … Sprinkle dried herbs or fruit into molds and cover with hot candy … Substitute rosewater for water. Add dried rose petals to molds.

RESOURCES … In addition to the garden, craft shops and herb suppliers consider

 

 

 

Magic Mushrooms May Power Santa Claus

Magic Mushrooms May Power Santa Claus

By Mary Nell Jackson, Guest Contributor

red mushroomWhen I was researching Winter Solstice I learned that Amanita muscaria mushrooms play a meaningful role in today’s Christmas tales. In fact, these red and white mushrooms may have had a significant influence on the depiction of Santa and his reindeer. It’s possible they directly or indirectly inspired Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas.

The late ethno-mycologist James Arthur listed many connections. One of the most simple is the colorful mushrooms appearance under pine and birch trees, similar to the Christmas tree. Another is Santa’s ruddy complexion, which could be caused by eating the mushroom. Yet another is his joyous ‘ho ho ho’ as ethno-botanists describe an ecstatic laugh in people who partake of these mushrooms.

My research took me to historic Siberia where Koryak people ate these mushrooms in small doses for hallucinogenic properties. A shaman would gather and prepare the mushrooms, then transport them to a ceremony in a white sack, much like Santa’s toy bag.

To reduce toxicity a shaman would hung mushrooms from tree branches to dry. This is a lot like hanging ornaments today.

IMG_8162And, it’s interesting to note the Koryak people lived in yurts. When the front door was hidden by snow drifts, they entered through the chimney.

Legend has it that Santa’s reindeer ate mushrooms as they grazed near pine trees. Thus, their odd reindeer behavior becomes explainable.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, commentator Richard Harris shared the following story about touring Harvard University’s Herbarium. At tour’s end, Harris eyed a glass case containing Christmas decorations shaped like red mushrooms with white flecks — amanita muscaria. He asked curator and biology professor Donald Pfister “Why?”  Pfister told Harris that each December he gathers introductory botany students and tells them about Santa and the psychedelic mushrooms.

IMG_8163Unconvinced? Anthropologist and professor John Rush from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., shares yet another tale. A few hundred years ago Arctic shamans handed out psychedelic mushrooms on the Winter Solstice. People often hung them on trees or at the fireplace to dry. Rush also points out that the traditional dress of the shamans was red suits with white spots … which factors into the Santa tale.

These are, of course, speculation. I must say it has given me pause to think about the relationship of Santa Claus and these colorful magical mushrooms.

 

 

12 Herb Books for Holiday Gifting

NeighboringwithNatureBooks make great gifts. Here’s a roundup of herb-related books we’ve reviewed in the past two-plus years. Click a headline to learn more. Then head over to smile.Amazon.com to order and, thus, make a donation to HSA. Books seven through 12 were published by St. Lynn’s Press, the company offers free shipping and, if you sign up for their newsletter, a 25 percent off coupon.

  1. Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook
  2. New Scout Guide to Foraging Season
  3. Neighboring with Nature: Native Herbs for Purpose and Pleasure
  4. Build a Bee-Friendly Garden
  5. Six Reasons to Read The Culinary Herbal
  6. Crafting Holistic Beauty Products
  7. The Herb Lover’s Spa Book
  8. Eat Your Roses … and other flowers, too
  9. A Garden to Dye For
  10. Herbs Build Artful Windowsill Arrangements
  11. Bottle Trees Play with Light
  12. Join the Emerging Foodscape Landscape