Making More Little Herbalists

By Andrea Jackson

DSC_0161When we love something, it’s impossible not to share it with others, particularly those we care about most. Herbs and children are such a natural combination, it’s easy to draw a child in by offering them a smell or a taste or by telling them a fascinating story about the plant. Then, before you know it, you are making all manner of herbal goodies together.

My granddaughter, Marin, lives about three hours away, but each time she comes to visit, she wants to explore my herb room and I’m thrilled to oblige her. We smell and taste and put things together. Each time she comes, she wants to make a potpourri, and so, has ended up with quite an array in her bedroom. From there, we graduated to making lotions, which she loves to slather on and share with her mom. When she was seven, she wanted to have an herbal birthday party. She invited ten of her friends, and we made rose lavender potpourri and lavender lotion. It was quite hands on for the group, but flower-2510254_1920they all were excited to participate. They loved the way everything smelled, and each little girl went home with a little bottle of lotion and a small bag of potpourri. Now, she is almost a teenager and her interests have waned somewhat, but she still wants to make potpourri each time she comes.

My niece, Gabby, seems to have a natural affinity for plants. From a young age, she was pulling weeds in the parking lots of restaurants. And now, she loves herbs and frequently calls with questions. Her mom grows a wide variety of them, and she sent me a video of Gabby with a necklace of intertwined herbs answering the question, “How can you tell something is in the mint family?” She confidently shouted, “Square stems.” We make jams together whenever we can.

picking-flowers-391610_1920Then along came my granddaughter, Gemma, who not only lives locally but whom I babysit weekly. That provides lots and lots of time for herbal teaching. Since she was eighteen months old, she’s been out in the garden tasting and rubbing leaves and smelling the wonderful scents. On the way to the playground there is a field of weeds, and we always take time to tell their stories. One day my daughter called  to tell me that Gemma was “eating the landscape,” so we instituted the rule never to eat a plant unless I gave it to her.

We plant a tiny container garden each year, which she tends, and she is thrilled when the plants come up and she has something new to taste and share. In addition to caring for her garden, she has been making potpourri with me. She is four now and can distinguish between some mints, and she loves lavender.

When she was three, we took a walk and passed a field of plants. Gemma said, “Look at all the burdock.” I can certainly die happy. 

Photo credits: 1) School children visiting the National Herb Garden (Jeanette Proudfoot); 2) Potpourri (Monfocus, Pixabay); 3) Child gathering wildflowers (SMBlake, Pixabay).


Andrea JacksonAndrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council. Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs. Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions.

Calling All Artists and Designers

header

The Herb Society of America
is Seeking Design Art!

Organizers for the Virtual Educational Conference and Annual Meeting of Members (EdCon) to be held June 10th – 12th, 2021, invite artists and designers of all ages and abilities to submit artwork for consideration for the 2021 EdCon logo. The theme is, of course, HERBS!

To enter the contest, participants must:

  1. Choose a theme, and create a design. The theme should reflect a combination of herbs and pollinators. Herbs may include native plants, trees, and bushes. Pollinators may include native bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, flies, beetles, etc.
  2. Art is often best rendered with strong lines and minimal color to facilitate replication on posters, printed materials, and tote bags. You are welcome to design on your computer or directly on paper.
  3. The design must adapt well to electronic (ideally .jpg or .png format) and print media along with the ability to be reproduced on small and large surfaces.
  4. Artists should include their contact information and a brief biography for inclusion in publicity. The selected artist’s name and/or work will be featured on the HSA Annual Report, EdCon webpage, downloadable handouts, tote bags, and acknowledged in HSA’s EdCon publicity.
  5. Multiple entries from individual artists are permitted. Artwork should be emailed to Jen Munson jenmun08@gmail.com or mailed to: The Herb Society of America, Attn: Jen Munson, 9019 Kirtland Chardon Rd Kirtland, OH 44094. Artwork must be received by January 31st, 2021. Individuals requesting return of their submission should also include a self-addressed, stamped mailing receptacle. 

12-17 - design contest

Prizes:

One winner will be selected and will receive: two tote bags with logo, one complimentary registration to our virtual educational conference, and artistic credit for your winning design. If you are unable to attend our virtual conference, you’ll be awarded a $100 prepaid visa card.

Selection of Winner:

All entries will be judged by The Herb Society of America’s members.

In the event that no entry is selected, the conference committee reserves the right to declare no winner. The Herb Society of America will have all rights to the winning design. By submitting your entry, you agree that if your design wins it will be used by the virtual educational conference committee to design a tote bag and as it deems necessary and in such other ways that are relevant to the promotion of our virtual educational conference.

For further information or questions please contact Jen Munson at jenmun08@gmail.com.

Get Warmed Up with “Fire Cider”

By Karen O’Brien

DSC06193At this time of year, people often investigate remedies for winter ailments, be it the flu, colds, or even just warming brews. Many herbalists make a version of a vinegar-based drink called “fire cider,”* guaranteed to warm you up and may just possibly help with warding off upper respiratory infections. I always have a batch brewing, as I don’t want to be caught without this when the winds blow and the winter descends.

Made with apple cider vinegar, this drink is sure to wake you up and wow your taste buds. DSC06194(Apple cider vinegar is made by adding yeast to apple juice, which breaks down the sugars into alcohol. Then, other bacteria are added to turn the alcohol into acetic acid. These bacteria are what’s referred to as the “mother.” Some brands of apple cider vinegar have had the “mother” filtered out for clarity; some brands retain it. The best kind of cider to use is one that has retained the “mother.”) I like it straight, but many add a spoonful of honey to “help the medicine go down.” You can add or subtract to the recipe as you see fit, or you can find many versions online. The typical ingredients are horseradish, garlic, onions, ginger, and hot pepper. I add turmeric to mine as I like the anti-inflammatory nature of that rhizome. Enjoy!

FIRE CIDER

DSC027331 large horseradish root, peeled

3 medium size fresh ginger rhizomes

5 – 6 fresh turmeric rhizomes

5 – 10 small hot peppers

2 small onions 

4 heads of garlic, peeled

Apple cider vinegar, enough to cover the ingredients, approximately 2 ½ quarts

Directions          

DSC01054Grate the horseradish in a food processor and place in a large bowl. Shred the turmeric, onions, garlic, ginger, and hot peppers and add to the bowl. Mix well. Place ingredients into two large (2-quart) canning jars and cover with apple cider vinegar. I used 2 1/2 quarts of vinegar with the “mother,” being sure I covered the shredded roots. If you don’t have the large jars, you can use any extra large wide-mouthed jar, or use several smaller ones. If using metal lids, be sure to place a layer of wax paper between the lid and jar, as vinegar will corrode the metal over time. Place in a dark place for 4-8 weeks, shake frequently, then strain and re-bottle. The strained fire cider will last several months in a cool place, but is best stored in the fridge. 

*There was a huge controversy in the herbal community some years ago when three herbalists were sued for marketing their own version of this herbal blend. A company had trademarked the term “fire cider” and went after these herbalists in order to protect their investment. After a long trial, it was determined that the words “fire cider” were, indeed, a generic term and could not be trademarked. See the following article on the herbalists’ fight in court: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/10/20/herbalists-defended-their-brew-court-they-won/r94hvWnBghLvdwsnw7W7JN/story.html

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of the author.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Karen O’Brien is a Master Gardener and owner of  “The Green Woman’s Garden” (www.greenwomansgarden.com) in Richmond, New Hampshire. She lectures and presents workshops on all aspects of herbs and gardening. Karen is also the Northeast District Member Delegate for The Herb Society of America (HSA), was the Botany and Horticulture Chair of HSA, past Chair of The New England Unit of HSA, was past Secretary of the International Herb Association (IHA), and is Past President of the Greenleaf Garden Club of Milford, MA. She is the editor and contributing author to several Herb of the Year™ books, including Capsicum, Satureja, Artemisia, and Sambucus, produced by the IHA. Karen also writes a gardening column for the Richmond Rooster and is an alternate Agriculture Commission member for Richmond.

HSA Webinar: A History of Chocolate

By Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

20190613_150017Chocolate: food or medicine? For centuries, chocolate was consumed primarily as medicine. Cacao, from which chocolate is derived, was the basis for prescriptions promising relief from such ailments as anemia, alopecia, fever, gout, heart disease, kidney and liver disease, along with tuberculosis. Prescriptions from the 16th and 17th centuries would combine cacao with cinnamon, sugar, pepper, cloves, vanilla, and/or anise to ease common complaints. Certainly modern day amoxicillin could benefit from such a delicious concoction.  

It was only in the 19th century that chocolate became more of a food staple and less of a medicine. This was in part because of the expansion of where cacao could be grown. Cacao is a New World food, but the Portuguese brought the cacao tree to the African tropics. The development of machinery made it easier to separate cacao butter from the seeds, and so the making of chocolate became easier. As advances were made, chocolate became mainstream with Nestle, Godiva, La Maison du Chocolat, Fauchon, Lindt, Suchard, and Sprüngli elevating chocolate to a decadent treat. Today, it is consumed in all sorts of shapes and for different reasons: to soothe the day’s stress, to celebrate birthdays, or to show one’s love on Valentine’s Day. 

0004Join us on January 12th at 1pm EST when HSA’s guest speaker and author, Sarah Lohman, joins us for a “History of Chocolate.” During this program, we’ll uncover the history of chocolate, from its roots as an ancient Meso-American beverage to a contemporary melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bar. You’ll learn how a yellow, football-shaped tropical fruit transforms into high-end dark chocolate and what “Mexican Hot Chocolate” actually has in common with what Montezuma drank. We’ll cover botany, “Chocolate Wars,” and what makes Hershey’s distinctive flavor.

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over 50 program titles. To register visit www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

Photo Credits: 1) Box of chocolates (Chrissy Moore); 2) Author and speaker Sarah Lohman (Sarah Lohman).


Sarah Lohman is a culinary historian and the author of the bestselling book Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. She focuses on the history of food as a way to access the stories of diverse Americans. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as on “All Things Considered.” Sarah has also presented across the country, from the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to The Culinary Historians of Southern California. Her current project, Endangered Eating: Exploring America’s Vanishing Cuisine, will be released with W.W. Norton & Co. in 2021.

Parsley – Herb of the Month and Herb of the Year

By Maryann Readal

The spotlight is shining on parsley this month. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for January and the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year for 2021. The three most common varieties of parsley are P. crispum or curly-leaf parsley,  P. crispum var. neapolitanum or flat-leaf Italian parsley, and P. crispum var. tuberosum or turnip-root parsley which is grown for its root and is used in soups and stews.

Parsley has an interesting history dating back to Greek and Roman times. To the Greeks, parsley symbolized death and was not used in cooking. However, according to Homer, the Greeks fed parsley to their chariot horses as they thought it gave them strength. The Greeks believed that parsley sprang from the blood of one of their mythical heroes, Archemorus, whose name means “the beginning of bad luck.” From then on parsley had an association with death and misfortune. Victorious athletes in the Nemean games were crowned with wreaths of parsley, symbolizing the contest’s origin as a funeral game dedicated to Archemorus. The Greeks had a saying: “De ‘eis thai selinon” (to need parsley), which meant that a person was near death. They also decorated their tombs with parsley.

parsley italianThe Romans, on the other hand, wore wreaths of parsley to ward off intoxication and used it at meals to mask the smell of garlic. Perhaps this is where the idea of parsley as a garnish originated. It is said that the Romans also covered corpses with parsley to cover the smell of decay. 

The Romans and the Greeks used parsley as a medicine. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), in Chapter 20 of his book The Natural History, talks about using a decoction of parsley seeds for  kidney troubles and ulcers in the mouth, and goes on to say that “fish also, if they are sickly in ponds,  are revived by fresh parsley.”  

The Romans brought parsley to England, where colorful folklore arose around the herb, much of it centering around death and ill luck. In Devonshire, it was believed that transplanting parsley would offend the guardians of the parsley bed and that the person doing the transplanting would be punished within the year. In Surrey, it was believed that if someone cut parsley, that person would be crossed in love. In Suffolk, it was thought that parsley should be sown on Good Friday to ensure it coming up double. It was believed that when planting the seeds of parsley, the seed went to the devil nine times and back, with the devil keeping some of the seeds for himself.  This may have been an explanation for the slow germination of parsley seeds. 

parsley root school projectParsley began to be eaten during the Middle Ages.  Charlemagne was said to have grown large quantities of parsley in his gardens for this purpose. Early immigrants brought parsley to the Americas where it was used as a culinary herb.

The association of parsley with death and misfortune played out again in 1937 with the execution of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. An immigrant’s safety depended on if they could pronounce the word “parsley” correctly. This was called the Parsley Massacre and you can read about this tragic piece of history connected with parsley at https://www.ibtimes.com/parsley-massacre-genocide-still-haunts-haiti-dominican-relations-846773.

parsley pestoParsley is a versatile herb in the kitchen. It adds brightness when sprinkled over any finished dish, and is good in salad dressings, soups and stews. It is one of the ingredients in fines herbes, the French persillade, South American chimichurri, and Mexican salsa verde. The Japanese deep fry parsley in tempura batter, and the Swiss serve deep fried parsley with their fondue. And of course, it is used in pesto. It truly is a universal herb.  Herbalist Madalene Hill, former President of The Herb Society of America, in her book Southern Herb Growing, says that her green butter recipe “should accompany most steaks and that its use will probably relegate the steak sauce and ketchup bottle to the back of the refrigerator where they belong.”  Her recipe is simply one stick of softened butter combined with two cups of finely chopped parsley and one tablespoon of lemon juice.

Parsley is a biennial herb and is easy to grow in moist soil in sun or part shade. It is a good companion plant in the garden, warding off asparagus beetles.  Tomatoes, peas, carrots, peppers and corn will also benefit by having parsley nearby.  The flowers attract bees and hoverflies which eat aphids and thrips. It is also said to improve the scent of roses and keeps them healthier. I like to use parsley as a border plant in my garden, which the Greek and Medieval gardeners were also fond of doing. A benefit of including parsley in your garden is that it is a host plant for the swallowtail butterfly, which will frequently lay eggs on the plant.

Parsley swallowtailWithout a doubt, parsley does have medicinal benefits. It is high in vitamins A, C, and K, and contains antioxidants. The leaf, seed, and root are used in medicine. People have used it to treat bladder infections, kidney stones, gastrointestinal disorders, and high blood pressure. Some apply parsley to the skin to lighten dark patches and bruises. It is also used for insect bites.  Pregnant women are advised not to take parsley in medicinal amounts, as it increases menstrual flow and has been used to cause abortion.

For more information on parsley, go to The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month web page and the Essential Facts for Parsley.

Photo Credits: 1) Curly leaf parsley (Amanda Slater); 2) Italian parsley (Maryann Readal); 3) Parsley root (schoolphotoproject.com); 4) Parsley pesto (Wikimedia Commons); 5) Swallowtail caterpillar (Wikimedia Commons) 

References

Fowler, Marie. Herbs in Greek mythology. The Herbarist. 2010. 

Gardening Know How. Information about parsley. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/parsley  Accessed 12/13/20.

Ghosh, Palash. Parsley Massacre:  The genocide that still haunts Haiti-Dominican relations. International Business Times. https://www.ibtimes.com/parsley-massacre-genocide-still-haunts-haiti-dominican-relations-846773  Accessed 12/21/20.

The Herb Society of America. Essential facts for parsley. https://herbsocietyorg.presencehost.net/file_download/inline/140a12b8-0fe0-4a52-ac2c-2b61ea6e786a Accessed 12/22/20.

Hill, Madalene and Barclay, Gwen. Southern Herb Growing. Fredericksburg, TX., Shearer. 1997.

History of parsley-Proverbs & folklore.  http://www.ourherbgarden.com/herb-history/parsley.html Accessed 12/15/20.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History.  Internet Archive. http://www.attalus.org/info/pliny_hn.html Accessed 12/21/20.

WebMD. Parsley. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-792/parsley Accessed 12/22//20.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Bayberry Candles

By Katherine K. Schlosser

The season of lights is upon us. During this darkest time of the year, we gravitate to earthly sources of light to keep things merry and bright.

Drupes2_zoomed in to see waxEarly in our history as a country, many were short on money and luxuries such as candles. Livestock numbers were as yet too low to produce the quantity of tallow needed to make candles affordable, so following the lead of Native Americans, householders turned to candlewood to provide light on winter evenings.

We know candlewood as fatwood or pine knots—the resin-impregnated heartwood of pine trees.  Pines that were cut to clear land, build homes, and provide heat for warmth and cooking left stumps in the ground. Those stumps, full of resin, hardened and became rot-resistant…and were an easy source of candlewood. Slim slivers cut from the wood burned hot and bright.

Alice Morse Earle, writing in the 1800s about life in Colonial America, quoted a statement made by Rev. Mr. Higginson in 1633:

     They are such candles as the Indians commonly use, having no other, and they are nothing else but the wood of the pine tree, cloven in two little slices, something thin, which are so full of the moysture of turpentine and pitch that they burne as cleere as a torch.

Though efficient, abundant, and readily available, candlewood produced copious amounts of smoke, along with a strong scent of turpentine, making it less desirable than more traditional candles. Those living along the coast had the advantage of another source of light: fish oil, with which they filled lamps.

It wasn’t long before enterprising New England Colonists discovered the virtues of bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), a deciduous shrub common along coastal plain areas.  The branches, leaves, and fruits are sweetly aromatic, and were used by Native Americans for a variety of medical complaints, including gum disease.20201223_103259

Here in North Carolina, southern bayberry (Morella caroliniensis) is evergreen and native to our coastal plain and the Outer Banks.  There are other species, mostly on the East Coast. Morella cerifera, wax myrtle, is native from Maryland south to Florida and westward to Texas. Morella inodora, scentless bayberry, grows from Georgia to Louisiana and south to Florida. The outlier is M. californica, California wax myrtle, reaching from southern California through Oregon and into Washington.

The dark blue berries (non-edible drupes) of these waxy species are covered with a grayish-white waxy substance. Boiled in large vats of water, the wax floats to the surface, where it is skimmed and transferred to another pot for refining. Peter Kalm, a Swedish naturalist writing in 1748, reported that the wax “acquires a fine and transparent green color. This tallow is dearer than common tallow, but cheaper than wax.”

The end product was somewhat brittle, but burned slowly and without smoke.  Even better, when extinguished, the candles yield a pleasant, warm aroma with the exception of M. inodora.  Kalm also reported that “in Carolina they not only make candles out of the wax of the berries, but likewise sealing-wax.”

The berries are small and the waxy coating thin, making enormous quantities necessary to make a candle—eight pounds of the berries are required to make one pound of wax. The candles were so popular that in 1687, Brookhaven, New York, passed a law to help protect the plants: gathering of the berries before September 15th of the year brought a fifteen shilling fine.  

To alleviate the problem of brittle candles, a small amount of beeswax was added before forming the candles. Bayberry was the longest burning candle of all, giving rise to the uniquely American tradition of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  

The bonus to these clean, attractive, long-burning candles, was the fragrance released in a whiff of smoke when extinguished. So nice, in fact, that people were tempted to periodically extinguish and re-light the candles to enjoy the scent. That might, technically, violate the luck-bringing requirements of the New Year’s Eve tradition:  

A Bayberry Candle
burned to the socket 
brings Luck to the household, 
Food to the larder 
and Gold to the pocket.

Bayberry candle by Katherine K SchlosserNot only must the candle be burned on New Year’s Eve, but must be burned through one night and into the next day/year. A contemporary ten-inch taper will burn about 5-7 hours, so lighting one at dinner should last past midnight. If you stay up to bring the New Year in, your candle will probably burn down shortly thereafter. If you retire early and hesitate to leave an unattended candle burning, a friend suggests putting  your burning candle, securely in a candle holder, into the kitchen sink with no curtains or such nearby. You will miss the fragrance as the flame dies down, but you will have good luck for the next year.

You can grow bayberry in sandy or well-drained soil, slightly on the dry side, and in full sun or part shade (determine the native habitat in your area).  The shrubs where I live grow from three to eight feet tall, and if you have both male and female plants, and do not fertilize heavily, you will have a source for making your own candles.

If you purchase your candles, make sure to get those with actual bayberry wax rather than just bayberry “scented,” and enjoy a bright and happy holiday season.

Photo Credits: 1) Morella cerifera fruits, showing waxy coating (Erin Holden) 2) Morella cerifera hedge (Erin Holden); 3) Bayberry candle (Katherine Schlosser)

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Katherine Schlosser (Kathy) has been a member of the NC Unit of The Herb Society since 1991, serving in many capacities at the local and national level.  She was awarded the Gertrude B. Foster Award for Excellence in Herbal Literature and the Helen deConway Little Medal of Honor.  She is an author, lecturer, and native herb conservation enthusiast eager to engage others in the study and protection of our native herbs.

Christmas Herbs of Trinidad, Part I

By Amy Forsberg

Trinidad_tobago-esI was visiting my mother just a few weeks before Christmas in 2017. She had recently moved to a wonderful small family-run assisted living home. The owner, Ann Abdul, asked me if I’d like to taste some “sorrel drink” she had made for the holiday season. I had no idea what that was. It looked Christmassy–a brilliant ruby red. I took a sip, and the most delicious taste filled my mouth. It was a rich, complex, and unfamiliar burst of flavors. But it tasted like Christmas, too—it was sweet, and I thought I could detect cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. But it also tasted a bit like lemonade with a pronounced citrusy tartness. I loved it, and I had to know more! 

Ann and her family are from Trinidad, and over the next two years, I learned so much from her about Trinidad cuisine and culture. The island nation Trinidad & Tobago has a complex history of colonization, slavery, indentured labor, and immigration from all around the world, which has led to a cuisine and a culture that blends Indian, African, Creole, Amerindian, British, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Middle Eastern ingredients and traditions. It is one of the most diverse cuisines in the world and is full of bold flavors. 

There are certain recipes–food and drink–that are essential for Christmas in Trinidad. Ann says it simply isn’t Christmas without them. Maybe you will want to explore some of them and add them into your own celebrations. First, let’s look at what drinks are important to Christmas in Trinidad.

20171009_171414It turned out that “sorrel” is a name for the calyces of Hibiscus sabdariffa, a plant commonly known as roselle, as well as the beverage that is made from them. If you have ever tasted Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea, then you have tasted sorrel. (This sorrel is not related to the leaves of Rumex acetosa, also known as sorrel, which is used as a salad green and fresh herb.) In the Caribbean, the fleshy calyces are used fresh or dried to make the beverage. They are boiled along with various whole spices, then strained, sweetened, and cooled. It is served cold, with or without rum. The exact recipe varies from family to family, but the spices used would typically include cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cloves, allspice, ginger, star anise, and orange peel. Ann’s recipe calls for cinnamon, bay leaf, clove, and vanilla. In Trinidad, many people grow their own Hibiscus sabdariffa so they can harvest the fresh, but highly perishable, calyces, which ripen around Christmas-time, for making their sorrel. (Fresh sorrel may be hard to locate in some sections of the United States, but packets of dried sorrel are easier to find in the International food sections of stores or through Caribbean/International markets online.) For additional information on Hibiscus sabdariffa, check out the blog’s previous post on roselle.

Angostura bittersAnother essential Trinidadian Christmas drink is one more familiar to most Americans. Ponche de crème is their flavorful take on eggnog. Served straight or spiked with rum, this delicious drink must contain a special Trinidad ingredient: Angostura Bitters. You may be familiar with Angostura Bitters as a cocktail ingredient. It has a history that goes back to the early 19th century and is worthy of a post all its own! It is a concentrated alcoholic herbal concoction said to contain as many as 40 botanical ingredients, the exact recipe of which is rumored to be known by only five living people! It started out as a medicine and made its way into flavoring food and drink. Although the recipe is unknown, it is widely believed to include orange peel, vanilla, cinnamon, anise seeds, juniper berries, cocoa nibs, and the intensely bitter Gentiana lutea, a European alpine wildflower with a long history in medicine and brewing. Just a dash of Angostura Bitters is enough to help flavor most recipes. And in Trinidad, according to Ann, a dash is added to almost everything, particularly fruit juices. 

IMG_20201027_074741_444Lastly, the third beverage essential to Christmas in Trinidad is also enjoyed year-round: ginger beer. Ginger beer is a strongly flavored version of ginger ale that is non-alcoholic. The rhizome of Zingiber officinalis contains volatile oils, such as zingerone and gingerols, that give ginger its characteristic “zing.” Most families in Trinidad, as well as the rest of the Caribbean, make their ginger beer at home from fresh ginger rhizomes, and the resulting ginger beer often has a very strong punch of ginger flavor. It contains other spices such as cinnamon and clove. It is made very strong, and it can be diluted with water or club soda to suit your taste.

Next week: Trinidad Christmas foods!

All recipes from Ann Abdul and/or adapted from “The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago & the Caribbean” (which is the 2002 updated version of “Naparima Girls’ High School Diamond Jubilee 1912-1987, Trinidad & Tobago Recipes”. These are the quintessential cookbooks on Trinidadian cuisine, found in almost every home, according to Ann.)

Ann’s Sorrel Drink

  • Dried sorrel1 package dried sorrel (Angel brand easily available online or in Caribbean market)
  • 10 cloves
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 8 cups of water

Boil until tender, then cool. 

When cool add:

  • 1-2 cups sugar or to taste (sorrel is extremely tart)
  • ½ cup rum (optional)
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract

Store in refrigerator and enjoy throughout the season!

Ponche De Crème

  • 6 eggs
  • Peel of one lime
  • 3  15 oz. cans evaporated milk
  • 1½  14 oz. cans sweetened condensed milk (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp Angostura bitters
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • ½ cup rum or more to taste

Directions:

  1. Beat eggs and lime peel until light and fluffy.
  2. Add evaporated milk.
  3. Sweeten to taste with condensed milk.
  4. Add bitters, nutmeg and rum according to taste.
  5. Remove lime peel.
  6. Serve with crushed ice.

Notes:

You can substitute 1 ½ cups pureed steamed pumpkin for eggs. Consuming raw eggs carries risk of salmonella bacteria illness. Using pasteurized eggs reduces this risk.

Ginger Beer

  • 1 lb. fresh ginger root
  • 8 cups water
  • juice and peel of one lime
  • 4 cups granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4-6 cloves

Directions:

  1. Wash, peel, and grate ginger root.
  2. Place in a large bottle with 8 cups of water and juice and peel of one lime.
  3. Leave in the sun for one day. Next day, drain and sweeten with sugar.
  4. Pour into clean bottles and place in the refrigerator. Allow to settle for 2 days.

If too strong, dilute with club soda or water to taste.

Photo credits: 1) Map of Trinidad and Tobago (Wikimedia Commons); 2) Hibiscus sabdariffa (sorrel/roselle) calyces (Michael Rayburn, Rayburn Farms); 3) Angostura Bitters (angosturabitters.com); 4) Zingiber officinale (ginger) rhizomes (Michael Rayburn, Rayburn Farms); 5) Dried sorrel calyces (angelbrand.com).


Amy Forsberg is a horticulturist who was the 2000-2001 National Herb Garden intern. She has gardened at the U.S. Botanic Garden (2002-2005) and the U.S. National Arboretum (2006-2018). She has long been fascinated by the history of herbs and spices and their role in creating culture and cuisines.

Cinnamon – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Cinnamon is the name for several plant species in the laurel family (Lauraceae). It is a small tropical evergreen tree with aromatic leaves and bark. The spice, cinnamon, is the bark of the tree which has been shaved, rolled, and dried into the familiar tubes called “quills.”  

cinnamon_1 Creative CommonsThe two most common cinnamon species are “true” or Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum). “True” cinnamon is grown in Sri Lanka. Cassia cinnamon is grown in Southeast Asia and is the one found in the spice section of your grocery store. The two cinnamons differ in taste and color, with the “true” cinnamon having a more subtle, delicate flavor and a lighter color. It is also more expensive. The picture is a good illustration of the difference between the two cinnamons. The cinnamon on the left is the coarser cassia cinnamon. The cinnamon on the right is Ceylon cinnamon. Notice how the quills of the Ceylon cinnamon are tightly rolled.

Cassia cinnamon has a higher content of the natural ingredient coumarin. Scientists discovered that coumarin may cause reversible liver damage in susceptible people. This discovery led the European Union in 2011 to limit the amount of coumarin in food to 6.8mg per pound of food (about one teaspoon). This created a furor in Scandinavian countries where the cinnamon bun, which has a high cinnamon content, is a traditional baked good, and cinnamon stars are a popular cookie. Sweden found a way around this restriction by claiming that the cinnamon bun was a traditional food, and therefore, was subject to the higher coumarin limit of 22.7mg per pound of food. The Danish baking industry argued that switching to the “true” or Ceylon cinnamon, with its lower coumarin content, would ruin the taste of their traditional food and make it much more expensive as well. As you may imagine, this issue was very important in a country which celebrates National Cinnamon Bun Day on October 4th, and which looks forward to its daily fika tradition of having coffee along with their famous cinnamon bun. 

cinnamon Maryann ReadalCinnamon was first traded by the Arabs who protected their source of the spice by telling fantastic tales of how wild birds guarded the cinnamon trees. References to cinnamon were found in ancient Chinese botanical medical texts dating back to 2800 BCE. Cinnamon has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The Egyptians used cinnamon in the embalming process, as a medicine, and as a flavoring for beverages. There are a number of references to cinnamon in the Bible as an ingredient in Moses’ anointing oils (Exodus) and as a token of friendship between lovers and friends (Proverbs), while the Romans burned cinnamon on their funeral pyres. In 65 CE, Nero burned a year’s supply of cinnamon during his second wife’s funeral ─ a wife who he had assassinated. 

In medieval Europe, cinnamon was an indicator of wealth. It was burned as incense, as well as used to preserve meat. During the Bubonic Plague, sponges were soaked with cinnamon and cloves and placed in the sick room. It was also used to cure coughs and indigestion. 

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, the demand for cinnamon grew at the same time as traditional trade routes were threatened by unrest in the Arab world. Portuguese sailors began to look for alternate sources of spices, leading to Chrisopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas,  as well as the discovery of the source of cinnamon – Ceylon.  By the time the British East India Company gained control of the spice trade in the 19th century, demand for cinnamon had waned and was replaced by coffee, tea, sugar, and chocolate.

cinnamon tree Creative Commons Magda WojtyraSo where are we today with cinnamon, besides it being a necessary ingredient in our cinnamon buns, cinnamon candies, and apple pie? Several clinical studies have shown that cinnamon does help control fasting blood glucose levels in Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetic individuals. It has also been found to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. However, the National Institute of Health feels not enough study has been done to make a definitive recommendation for using cinnamon as a treatment. They do recommend that, if using cinnamon as a food supplement or medicine, the lower coumarin Ceylon cinnamon should be used.

Here is hoping you will enjoy many ─ but not too many ─ cinnamony treats this holiday season.

Photo Credits: 1) Quills of cassia cinnamon (left) and Ceylon cinnamon (right) (Creative Commons); 2) Cinnamon bun (Maryann Readal); 3) Cinnamon tree (Creative Commons, Magda Wojtyra).

References

Aubrey, Allison. Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar, but one variety may be best.  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/12/30/255778250/cinnamon-can-help-lower-blood-sugar-but-one-variety-may-be-best.  Accessed 11/18/20.

Bundesinstitut fur Risikobewerlung (BfR). FAQ on coumarin in cinnamon and other foods.  https://www.bfr.bund.de/en/faq_on_coumarin_in_cinnamon_and_other_foods-8487.html.  Accessed 11/18/20

National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Ciinnamon. May 2020. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cinnamon. Accessed 11/20/2020.

Osborne, Troy David. A taste of paradise: cinnamon. https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/cinnamon. Accessed 11/11/20.  

Ting Lu. Cinnamon extract improves fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin level in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrition Research.  June 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22749176/  Accessed 11/17/20.

The Guardian. Cinnamon sparks spicy debate between Danish bakers and food authorities. December 20, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/20/cinnamon-intake-food-argument-denmark  Accessed 11/11/20.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Herbal Hacks, Part 2: Crafts, Health, and Beauty

From the calming characteristics of lavender to the practice of pressing plants, our readers find all sorts of ways to add a bit of herbiness to their crafty arts and relaxing rituals. Please enjoy our next installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks–herbs for crafts, health, and beauty.

four-assorted-color-petal-flowers_Columbine flowers via Pikrepo

I place a little crystal bowl of lavender buds on my bedside table. It helps me relax and get a good night’s sleep. – Janice Cox

Spray your pillow at night with lavender water for a relaxing sleep. – Kim Labash

If you are unfortunate enough to have an allergic reaction to poison ivy while working in your yard, did you know that jewelweed can help with the itchiness? It usually grows nearby. Just break off a stalk and rub the liquid onto the rash. – Janice Waite

DSC03233I love pressing herbs and flowers in a phone book or microwave press. I use the flowers for cards, bookmarks, etc. – Marilyn Roberts Rhinehalt

Before embroidering, wash your hands with lavender and lemon verbena soap–it keeps you calm and lends a lovely aroma to the work. – Kim Labash

Calming herbs such as calendula, parsley, and lavender make wonderful facial masks. Simply mix a tablespoon of natural clay with a teaspoon of fresh leaves or flowers, then add enough water to form a creamy mixture. – Janice Cox

Use a cloth on your lap when making lavender wands, and then gather the dropped heads and use for sachet making. – Kim Labash

On hot, humid days in the garden, when not a breath of air is stirring and the gnats insist on flinging themselves into your face, tuck several sprigs of southernwood (bruised to release the essential oils) into your headband or under your hat brim. It smells lovely and keeps the gnats at bay. – Kathleen McGowan

20201129_101632Buy a pair of rose bead earrings from the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America–the smell will waft around your head all day. ;) – Kim Labash

I love pressing herbs to make note cards. I print quotes on the front, package them with envelopes, and give as gifts! Everyone loves them! – Dianne Duperior

Light a “heady” smelling candle, such as gardenia, before you get into the bath for a soak–you won’t regret it. – Kim Labash

Photo Credits: 1) Columbines (Pikrepo); 2) Pressed flower luminaries (Erin Holden); 3) Lavender wand and rose bead earrings (Erin Holden)

My Adventures in Making Corn Husk Paper

By Angela Magnan

Corn husks for papermakingAfter watching a video online about making paper from corn husks, I thought it would be fun to try. I had never made paper before, but the video made it look easy. Don’t they always?! I first made some using the husks from six ears. After it didn’t really go well, I bought a book with more detail and tried again. 

But like many DIY projects that I try for the first time, or even the second, making paper out of corn husks reminded me that watching a video is no substitute for a detailed book, which in turn is no substitute for experience. It also reminded me that when trying something new, I should perhaps follow the directions. 

Corn husks and stalks are some of the many plant materials commonly found in home gardens that can be made into paper. Grass and leaf fibers are some of the easier materials to work with. Those who have more time on their hands venture into using bast fibers, the fibrous material in between the outer surface layer and the inner core of certain plants’ stems. Harvesting it involves peeling stems apart one by one and stripping out the bast fibers. Grass and leaf fibers only need to be picked and washed and sometimes cut into smaller pieces prior to processing. 

Corn husk pulpAll plant fibers need to be cooked for several hours in an alkali solution*, a mixture of water and soda ash, washing soda, wood ash lye, lime, or caustic soda (also called lye). Because the amount of alkali you add to the water is based on the dry weight of the plant material, you need to dry, weigh, and rehydrate your plant materials prior to adding to the pot. Cooking breaks down the fibers, and the alkali dissolves non-cellulose materials, like lignins and waxes, that can cause discoloration or prevent the fibers from freely separating. There are pros and cons to each type of alkali, but the trick to using any of them is that you need to balance out the strength of the alkali with the strength of the fibers. Too weak and you will be boiling your fiber for days; too strong and you will damage the fiber. 

Once the fibers pull apart easily, you can use a blender to turn them into pulp, or you can do it by hand using a flat surface and a bat, mallet, or meat tenderizer. 

Once the material is no longer stringy, you add it to a vat with some water and make the paper. This typically involves using a mould and deckle, which is a two-part frame with a screen that you dip into the vat. An alternative is to use a deckle box, which is a deep box on top of a screen that you pour the pulp into. Both of these serve to evenly distribute the pulp and keep it in the shape you want. 

Once the liquid has sufficiently drained back into the vat, a papermaker typically transfers the wet paper onto a wool felt or towel in a process called couching. Once much of the water is absorbed by the felt, the paper can then be pressed and dried.

On my first try, I cut the husks up into small pieces and then boiled them using washing soda as my alkali. Then, I used a blender to turn them into pulp. Everything was going as planned. But then? Because I was not sure if my first try would also be my last, I didn’t want to go through the trouble of mould and deckle, and boxbuying or making a mould and deckle and instead poured it through a screen. I ended up spreading it around with my fingers. When I tried to remove the paper from the screen, the pulp stuck to it and wouldn’t come off. Apparently, the screen needs to be wet before it comes into contact with the pulp, a detail I only learned later after I bought the book. And then instead of pressing it, I merely laid it out to dry. My result was lumpy paper with a lot of conkling, a term used by papermakers and watercolor artists for the wavy imperfections in dried paper.  

Because my brother had a field of corn he couldn’t sell this summer, I had plenty of free material to try again. So why not? I made a small mould and deckle from two round plastic containers, some foam, and a piece of an old window screen with the intention of making small paper circles that I could decorate with corn husk ribbons and string together like a garland. Then, after drying the husks from three dozen ears, which weighed about a pound, I rehydrated them in a five-gallon bucket. Because I have an endless supply of wood ashes from my woodstove, I decided to be overly ambitious and made my own wood ash lye, even though the book described it as unpredictable. The book also indicated that the amount of wood ash lye I made would be enough for one pound of dry fiber, but only half of my husks fit. I cooked that half in the wood ash lye for hours and hours, and they still didn’t break down sufficiently. When I tried to pulp it by hand, the fibers would not separate even after an hour of pounding. 

By putting the beaten fibers in a watery vat and swishing it around, also known as “hogging the vat,” I was able to get some good pulp to disperse into the water and pull out most of the bits that were still stringy. Even still, the tiniest remaining strings kept getting tangled in my homemade mould and deckle, so I became an expert at “kissing off,” the act of slapping your screen against the water surface to release the pulp so you can start over. In Finished Corn Husk Paperthe end, I removed the bottom from an old drawer, placed it over a window screen, and used that as a deckle box. Fortunately, I remembered to wet the screen first this time and was able to pour the good pulp through it, then couch, press, and dry it. I ended up with one 11 x 17 sheet of paper. To preserve my materials, I poured the rest of the stringy fibers through the screen and dried them as 2 sheets of lumpy “paper.” 

Despite my failures, I am determined to forge ahead. I may try cooking down my lumpy paper a bit more, and I still have half a pound of uncooked husks. And now, whenever I work in the garden, I can’t help but think, “Could I make paper from this plant? What about this one?”

Sources:

Hiebert, Helen. 1998. Papermaking with Plants. Pownal, VT: Storey Books.

“How to Make Paper from Corn.” Storm the Castle. www.stormthecastle.com/paper-making/how-to-make-paper-from-corn.htm

*Safety disclaimer: Alkali products can be dangerous. You should always wear gloves and goggles when handling any alkali, and you should have vinegar on hand to neutralize it in case of a spill or other accident. You also should not pour alkali solutions down the drain if you have a septic system.

Photo Credits: 1) Dried corn husks; 2) Partially beaten pulp; 3) Homemade mould and deckle and using a bottomless drawer as a deckle box; 4) The final product with the first try on the left and the second try on the right. All photos courtesy of the author.


Angela grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.